Not wanting to be a jinx or anything, I’ll refrain from making an actual prediction. But I do think the Hawks have a real chance in Game 6, and here’s why:
1. Al Horford changes the dynamics at both ends. You’ll notice that Boston, which prides itself on playing D, couldn’t stop Horford in the final 2 1/2 minutes of the fourth quarter of Game 5. He scored the go-ahead-for-good hoop off a pick-and-roll with Jeff Teague — surely a called play out of a timeout — and made a tough hook over Kevin Garnett and Brandon Bass to put the Hawks up four. And you had to notice that Horford’s slipping of Garnett’s screen forced Rajon Rondo to dribble into the corner on the final sequence, whereupon he lost the ball. Would all the folks who picked the Celtics to win this series have made the same choice if they’d known Horfy would be back?
2. A personal rule: A team only gets so many opportunities to win a series. The Celtics squandered a prime one in Game 5. The Hawks were at sea early, and if Paul Pierce had hit a 3-pointer to make it a 13-point game the home team might have wilted. But Pierce missed and Joe Johnson found Kirk Hinrich running long for a layup, and what could have been a 13-point spread was instead eight. The Celtics also had two chances to nose ahead in the final 20 seconds but Pierce tried a tough shot — Johnson defended expertly — that didn’t touch iron and Rondo couldn’t find anything in the 10 seconds after he stole Josh Smith’s inbound pass. (It helped that Smith was alert enough to impede Rondo in backcourt; it also helped that Doc Rivers had no timeouts.) Two chances, neither resulting in the ball getting as far as the rim: It could be that the Celtics will close this out tonight and forget all about Game 5, but what if they don’t?
3. The Hawks, as noted, are pretty good when you expect them not to be. They looked a beaten team after Game 4, and for much of Game 5 they acted as if they weren’t sure if they could pull this off. But winning in the way they won — holding off the more seasoned team at the end — had to swell their self-esteem. They’re still alive, and if they can steal Game 6 they’ll have Game 7 here. They’re a six-point underdog tonight, but to me they’re a mighty live ‘dog. Then again, I’ve been known to be wrong about the Hawks — oh, only about a hundred times this century.
By Mark Bradley