ATLANTA — Al Horford scored 19 points in his first start since January, and the Atlanta Hawks held on for an 87-86 victory over the Boston Celtics in a thrilling Game 5 of the Eastern Conference playoffs Tuesday night.
The Celtics lead the series 3-2 heading back to Boston for Game 6 on Thursday. If the Hawks can steal one on the road, the deciding game would be Saturday in Atlanta.
Boston had a chance to clinch the series when Rajon Rondo stole Josh Smith's inbounds pass with 10 seconds remaining and raced down the court, looking for the winner. But he got hemmed in along the sideline and Smith knocked away a desperation pass, the ball rolling away as time ran out.
A relieved Smith collapsed on the scorer's table.
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Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett led the Celtics with 16 points apiece. Rondo had 13 points and 12 assists, and the last of his five assists gave Boston a chance to end the series early and get some much-needed rest.
But there's still work to do.
The Hawks kept their season going, getting a huge contribution from a player who wasn't there for much of it. Horford went down in January with a torn pectoral muscle, missing the rest of the regular season and the first three games of the playoffs. But he made a surprise return in Game 4, one of the few bright spots in an embarrassing 101-79 loss that gave the Celtics command of the series.
Boston headed to Atlanta intent on wrapping things up, but Horford clearly wanted to play a little longer after missing so much time. He led fast breaks and dived on the court for loose balls, not the least bit worried about reinjuring himself. In addition to leading the Hawks in scoring, he grabbed 11 rebounds, dished out three assists, came up with three steals and blocked three shots.
Smith clearly looked hobbled by a sore knee, but he still managed 13 points and 16 rebounds. Jeff Teague had 16 points, while Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams had 15 apiece, giving Atlanta double-figure scoring from all five of its starters in a revamped lineup.
Pacers 105, Magic 87: Danny Granger scored 25 points to help Indiana defeat visiting Orlando on Tuesday night and clinch their first-round Eastern Conference playoff series 4-1.
It was Indiana's first series win since 2005 and its first clincher on its home court since the first round of the 2000 playoffs. The Pacers will play Miami or New York in the second round.
Darren Collison scored 15 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter and George Hill added 15 points for the Pacers, who trailed by two at the end of the third quarter but outscored the Magic 36-16 in the final 12 minutes.
Jameer Nelson led Orlando with 27 points and made 5 of 8 three-pointers. Glen Davis, a thorn in Indiana's side throughout the series, scored 15 but made just 6 of 17 shots. The Magic made just 5 of 16 shots in the fourth quarter.
Collison made a layup and hit a three-pointer to give the Pacers a 78-73 lead with 9:33 to play. After Nelson drained another three, Collison came back with a layup, then Leandro Barbosa's steal and layup pushed Indiana's lead to 87-80 with 6:49 to play and forced an Orlando timeout. A few minutes later, Indiana's Paul George stole an inbounds pass and found Granger under the hoop for a layup and a 91-80 lead. The Pacers dominated from there.
Indiana led by as many as 15 points in the first half, but as was the case throughout the series, it didn't last.
A putback by Ryan Anderson gave Orlando a 51-50 lead early in the third quarter.
A bucket by David West and a jumper and a three-pointer by Hill pushed Indiana's lead to 57-51. Orlando rallied again and tied the game at 61 on a fadeaway by Davis before a three by Nelson gave Orlando a 66-64 lead. He hit another three in the closing seconds — he had 15 in the quarter — to give Orlando a 71-69 lead.
Hill added nine points in the period to keep the Pacers in the game before Collison and Granger put it away.