The Atlanta Hawks are now just one win away from advancing to the 2015 NBA Eastern Conference Finals.
This is because the Hawks beat the Washington Wizards, 82-81, in Game 5 of their second-round playoff series behind an Al Horford putback with 1.9 seconds left on May 13.
Now, Atlanta gets a chance to advance to its first ever Eastern Conference Finals stint.
Bear in mind these Hawks have lost in the first round for three consecutive years. Should they face either the Cleveland Cavaliers or Chicago Bulls in the next round, it goes to show what a little resiliency can do.
One sub-plot that has emerged in this series is the re-emergence of 37-year-0ld forward Paul Pierce of the Wizards.
He hit a game-winning triple against a Hawks double team in Game 3 to secure a pulsating 103-101 win and a 2-1 series lead on May 9.
On Wednesday, Pierce was at it again.
He drained a three-pointer from the left corner with 8.9 seconds left to give the Wizards an 81-80 lead.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Chris Vivlamore tweeted Pierce turned around and yelled “Series!” at the Hawks bench after he nailed that trifecta:
After Paul Pierce hit go-ahead 3-pointer, he looked at Hawks bench and said “Series.”
— Chris Vivlamore (@CVivlamoreAJC) May 14, 2015
Pierce has re-discovered the fountain of youth, chipping in with 16.0 points (on 51.4 percent shooting from three-point range), 4.8 rebounds and 1.0 assist during the series against Atlanta.
Too bad for him, Horford and Co. had the last laugh on Wednesday.
Atlanta Hawks Beat Washington Wizards, 82-81, in Game 5 on May 13
The Atlanta Hawks beat the Washington Wizards, 82-81, in Game 5 of their second-round playoff series on May 13.
SI.com’s DeAntae Prince says the Hawks not only gained the upper hand in the series, 3-2, they also spoiled the return of Wizards point guard John Wall, who sat out the previous three games with fractures in his left hand and wrist:
The first sign that Wall would be OK with the injured hand came on a fastbreak early in the first quarter, when he used his left hand for an in-and-out move, drove hard, and finished with the broken hand.
Two more Wall passes in the first quarter provided the kind of offense Washington just couldn’t replicate during his absence. Wall stepped back toward the free-throw line on one play and found a cutting teammate under the rim, then drove baseline to thread a pass to Marcin Gortat on another.
Wall finished the game with 15 points, seven assists, and four steals. Despite the minor turnover and shooting issues he faced while gutting through injury, Wall’s impact on the game was immeasurable.
Yet his return couldn’t overcome what Horford offered the Hawks. Both teams went on runs, with Horford and Wall each serving as linchpins during big shifts in the game.
Washington finished the first half on a 19-6 run, before Atlanta answered with its own 10-0 run to start the third quarter.
But that onslaught wouldn’t last, and Atlanta struggled to start the pivotal fourth quarter. It started the period 0-of-6 shooting from the field with four turnovers.
Atlanta’s offense is predicated by the pass more often than most. During this stretch, the Hawks struggled to complete passes and threw them off target when they did reach the intended target.
Atlanta played through the first five minutes without posting a field goal and finally got on the board with a Millsap free throw at 6:35 to make the score 71-64.
Mike Buldenhozer’s decision to place DeMarre Carroll on Wall coupled with two big threes from (Kyle) Korver and Horford changed the complexion of the game when Atlanta needed it most.
These events set the stage for the Pierce triple and the Horford putback, per Prince.
The SI.com game recap says shooting guard Bradley Beal led his team’s cause with 23 points while Horford, the hero of the night, had that same point production to go along with 11 rebounds and five blocks.
Horford becomes the first Hawks player to score at least 20 points and grab at least 10 rebounds in a postseason contest, per Prince.
The Final Say
With the Al Horford game-winner against the Washington Wizards on Wednesday, this season’s NBA playoffs just got a whole lot more interesting.
The Hack-A-DeAndre Jordan strategy of the Houston Rockets.
The Golden State Warriors on the verge of eliminating the Memphis Grizzlies.
Paul Pierce’s trash talking and John Wall’s return.
The back-to-back buzzer beaters of former MVPs Derrick Rose and Lebron James, the David Blatt phantom timeout and Taj Gibson ejection for kicking Matthew Dellavedova in the Cavaliers vs. Bulls series.
It just doesn’t get any better than this.
Should the Hawks go on to prevail against the Wizards and advance to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time, you should commend Mike Budenholzer and his troops for accomplishing something the great Dominique Wilkins and his past teams have never done.
On the other hand, your heart goes out to Pierce and Wall—two warriors who are doing all they can to help their team. Pierce turning back the hands of time and Wall shaking off an injured hand.
However, this series isn’t over yet. Not by a longshot.
Will the Hawks fly high or will The Truth set the Wizards free after Game 6?
Note: Unless otherwise stated, all stats are current as of May 14 and are courtesy of ESPN.com.