The Atlanta Hawks have a 3-2 lead.
It wasn't pretty, it wasn't always well-constructed, but again, the Atlanta Hawks have a 3-2 lead. It took every bit of 48 minutes, but Al Horford put the team over the top with a lay-up in the waning seconds, and Atlanta snuck past Washington by a final score of 82-81 in Game 5.
Despite the perception of a "boost" from the return of John Wall, the early returns were strong for the Hawks. Washington scored the first four points of the game, but Atlanta countered with a 10-2 run to claim the lead. That early push included a significant effort from DeMarre Carroll, who scored 7 points, grabbed 2 rebounds and dished out 3 assists in the first six minutes, and Al Horford was huge in his own right, turning the Wizards away at the rim to the tune of three blocks over that short time period.
Offensively, the first quarter was not a work of art, however, and that led to a 23-19 lead for the Hawks. Both teams were struggling on that end, with sub-40% shooting combined, and with 11 turnovers between the two clubs, it wasn't aesthetically pleasing.
Mike Muscala stole the show at the outset of the second quarter, and it was beautiful. "Moose" scored the first eight points of the period for the Hawks, including a barrage of jumpers, and things were looking strong for Atlanta. Unfortunately, that mojo flipped in a hurry (thanks in part to a disastrous half from Dennis Schöder, who was 0-4 FG with 3 turnovers in 11 minutes), and the Wizards outscored the Hawks by a 19-6 margin over the final 5:05 of the half. When the damage was done, the home team actually trailed by six, and the early eruptions from the crowd turned to groans and complaints.
Those groans increased in volume to begin the second half, as the Hawks committed four turnovers (!) in the first five possessions. Fortunately, that ineptitude was short-lived, and Atlanta would soon put together a 7-0 run that included a big three from Jeff Teague and a double-technical foul on Paul Pierce and DeMarre Carroll.
Later, Atlanta would zoom ahead again, scoring 10 straight points to regain the lead at 61-58, and that would help to give the team a (miraculous) lead to begin the final period. True to form, though, the good guys struggled mightily to begin the fourth, missing their first six shots and committing four turnovers as Washington regained the lead at 70-63 with an 8-0 run.
The futility continued as the visitors built an inexplicable 9-point lead at 73-64, and at that point, the Hawks had (still) not generated a single field goal (0-9). Mercifully, the sadness came to an end, and it did so in a masterful way.
Al Horford knocked down two free throws, and in the midst of back-to-back defensive stops, Kyle Korver (finally!) and Horford himself banged home two consecutive threes to bring the home team within a 73-72 margin with 4:21 to play. After a timeout, Budenholzer made the controversial decision to stick with Schröder over Teague, but the immediate results were fantastic, as the Hawks scored four more points (including a pull-up jumper from Dennis), increasing their run to 12-0 and their lead to 76-73 with 2:54 on the clock.
The Wizards, as they have all series, would put up a fight, and Paul Pierce was the culprit in this instance. Pierce was the beneficiary of a broken play that netted him a wide-open three, and the veteran converted the opportunity to bring Washington back within two at 78-76. In the midst of two lengthy video reviews, the two teams traded empty possessions, but Marcin Gortat knotted the score at 78-78 with a two-bounce jump hook.
With 46.9 seconds remaining, Mike Budenholzer signaled for timeout, and drew up a play that netted Al Horford an open midrange jumper. Sadly, that attempt rattled in and out (quite literally), and the Wizards had a chance to take the lead with only 32.6 seconds on the clock. Washington turned the ball over, however, and with a beautiful passing display from Horford and DeMarre Carroll on the break, the Hawks reclaimed the lead at 80-78 with 14.9 seconds left.
On cue, Hawks-killer Paul Pierce converted yet another three that looked to be a potential game-winner for the Wizards with fewer than nine seconds remaining. Still, the Hawks had the final answer, and Al Horford collected a loose ball for a putback finish as time nearly expired, and the home team escaped with a miraculous 82-81 victory.
More to come, but on this night, Atlanta was lit and the Hawks are in the driver's seat.