|Date of game: 5/10/2012
Recap: Boston vs. Atlanta
Boston, MA (Sports Network) - Atlanta was fortunate to avoid elimination after a series of mental mistakes in the closing seconds of Game 5, but the late- game hijinks tilted Game 6 in Boston's favor on Thursday.
Kevin Garnett swished a turnaround jumper with 30.4 seconds remaining to put the Celtics in front and they held on for a dramatic 83-80 series-clinching victory at TD Garden.
Trailing 81-79, with possession and 3.1 seconds remaining, the Hawks found Al Horford -- who had erupted for 10 points in the fourth quarter to that point -- in the paint on an inbounds pass. He was promptly fouled.
He missed the first free throw, and with so little time on the clock, the strategic play appeared to be to miss the second and try for an offensive rebound.
But Horford converted the second at the stripe, Paul Pierce hit 2-of-2 at the line a few moments later and the Celtics escaped to face Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
"Anytime you go though a series and you're able to come on top, that's always a plus," Garnett said. "Sure now we'll relax and enjoy this a little bit and then get back to work tomorrow, but yeah, it feels good."
Garnett finished with game-highs in points (28) and rebounds (14) in the victory, while Josh Smith led Atlanta with 18 points in the season-ending defeat.
For much of the second half, the Celtics appeared poised to replicate their Game 4 performance -- in which they trailed for just 14 seconds in the opening minute of an eventual rout -- but despite Atlanta shooting under 40 percent throughout the final two frames, the hosts never capitalized.
"Atlanta's criticized so much about who they are and all that stuff, and they had 10 times tonight when they could've went away and said, 'We gave it a great effort,' and they kept putting pressure on us," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "That's what I thought this series was more about. I thought they kept putting the pressure on us and we had to answer."
The Hawks proceeded to tread water until, down 74-65 midway through the fourth, Jeff Teague spurred a 14-2 outburst with a dunk in transition.
Horford trimmed their deficit to three with a driving layup after Smith hit a pair at the line, and his jumper answered a basket from Boston's Brandon Bass. He then made it a one-point game with a transition alley-oop from Smith.
Smith followed by splitting two defenders at the top of the key and charging through the lane for a resounding, Garden-quieting dunk as Atlanta took its first lead since the 6:29 mark of second quarter at 77-76.
Horford pushed the lead to three on a driving layup off the glass, but that was almost all the visitors would get.
Pierce -- who started despite the team announcing earlier Thursday he has a sprained MCL in his left knee -- atoned for a pair of turnovers a few minutes prior with a finger-roll layup in the paint, setting up Garnett's heroics in the final minute.
The teams battled back-and-forth in the early part of the contest, tallying eight lead changes in the first quarter. Atlanta eventually made the final four points en route to a 23-20 edge after one.
The Hawks dictated play in the opening minutes of the second stanza, and a trey from Marvin Williams gave them their largest advantage of the evening, at 28-20, at the 9:23 mark.
But Boston answered with a furious 16-0 rally, and the Celtics took a 47-41 lead into halftime.
"From start to finish, as you get into the playoffs it's about adjustments, it's about trying to gain advantages and I think they did a great job with that. I'd like to congratulate Doc and his staff for their success and wish them all the best," said Hawks head coach Larry Drew.Game Notes
Horford played 46-plus minutes and finished with 15 points in his third game back from a torn left pectoral muscle that sidelined him for nearly four months this season...Pierce sustained his knee injury on Sunday before Game 4...Since moving to Atlanta in 1968, the Hawks have never beaten the Celtics in a postseason series, losing seven straight.