Visions of a Hawks comeback against the Celtics are clouded by memories of the bludgeoning they absorbed the last time they were in Beantown.
The grit the Hawks showed while winning, 87-86, on Tuesday night in Game 5 at Philips Arena came two days after they were down by as many as 37 points in their 101-79 loss in Game 4.
Now the Hawks go back to TD Garden tonight in need of a victory to force a decisive Game 7 on Saturday at home.
The Hawks say the return trip to Boston will be different.
“We got embarrassed the last time we were up there,” center Al Horford said. “We are aware of that. This is a different situation for us. We are giving it all that we have.”
Horford’s return to form in Game 5 is a reason for the Hawks to hope they can bring the series back to Atlanta. Playing in his second game since Jan. 17 pectoral surgery, Horford had 19 points, 11 rebounds, three assists, three blocks, and three assists.
But even that is no sure harbinger for success in Boston. After all, the Hawks gave their best effort in Boston with Horford, forward Josh Smith and center Zaza Pachulia all sidelined by injury. Smith and Horford were on the court for the Game 4 rout.
In their return trip to Boston, the Hawks have to play with the intensity they showed in Game 5, figure out how to hold a lead if they get one and hold their ground if the Celtics again come out playing inspired.
“Whatever we did (in Game 5), ball it up in a cup and take it with us,” Hawks guard Jeff Teague said. “We have just got to come out and play hard again. It’s going to be a hostile environment. We’ve just got to get past those first five minutes and we’ll be fine.”
The start was a big problem for the Hawks in Game 4. Boston was quicker, sharper and more aggressive while taking a 24-point lead in the first half. The Hawks never recovered.
A Game 6 loss would mean the end of the Hawks’ season. Win, and they will get another chance to become the ninth team in NBA history to overcome a 3-1 deficit to win a playoff series.
“We just want to take it one quarter at a time and not get ahead of ourselves worrying about a Game 7,” guard Joe Johnson said. “We are worried about Game 6, the first quarter, and not letting them get off to a big lead and make a big run. We’ve got to control tempo and pace. If we can do that, we will be OK.”