For more than 18 minutes to begin the night, the Atlanta Hawks looked like a team destined for a 3-2 series deficit and a nearly impossible task to advance in the Eastern Conference Playoffs. For the next 30 minutes of clock, the Hawks were utterly dominant, though, and that helped Atlanta race away from the Boston Celtics for a 110-83 win and a 3-2 series edge.
Much like Games 3 and 4 on the road, much of the first half of Game 5 was brutal to watch from a Hawks perspective. The team began the night with just nine points in the first 8:56 of the game, making only 3 of 16 shots from the field, and only a heroic defensive effort kept the Celtics close in the form of just a five-point deficit for Atlanta.
Boston threatened to pull away, stringing together seven straight points between the first and second quarters, but Atlanta's defense simply wouldn't allow that to happen. Eventually, the Celtics did build a 29-21 lead at the 5:41 mark of the second quarter, but after a timeout by Mike Budenholzer at that juncture, everything changed.
Prior to the timeout, the Hawks were scuffling offensively at an insane rate. The team had made just 6 of its 34 shots (17.6%) from the field, including 0 of 8 from Al Horford, but the offense came alive following the break. The result was a 24-6 run over 4:36 of clock time, and Kent Bazemore was the central catalyst, knocking down three shots from beyond the three-point arc in less than two minutes.
When the dust settled, the Hawks led by double-figures, and they preserved an eight-point edge into the halftime break. That was borderline incredible considering the offensive woes (37% from the floor), but the stifling defense forced 9 turnovers from the Celtics and held the visitors to 36% shooting and 22% from three-point distance.
Though the beginning of the third quarter was played fairly evenly, the Hawks had another run to come and it was one that sent the Philips Arena crowd into a frenzy. Atlanta raced to an 18-1 spurt using three consecutive threes from Mike Scott, Dennis Schröder and Paul Millsap, and when it was over, the Hawks suddenly held a 26-point lead at 84-58 with less than 14 minutes remaining in the game.
From there, it was an exercise in preservation. Atlanta scored a franchise playoff record 42 points in third quarter to take a 27-point advantage into the closing period, and following that, the lead grew to as many as 34 points. In fact, the Hawks strung together a staggering 58-17 overall run during this game and, well, it was a lot of fun to watch.
There were many heroes on this night, ranging from Jeff Teague (16 points on 11 shots) to Kent Bazemore (16 points, 5 rebounds), Mike Scott (17 points) and Paul Millsap (10 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists, +24), but the defense was the biggest reason Atlanta was able to get a win. Yes, the Hawks went supernova for a long stretch, but Boston was held to just 37.7% shooting in the game with 20 turnovers, and Atlanta's defense never let up, even as the offense sputtered in the early going.
These two teams will return to Boston for Game 6 on Thursday, but once again, the Hawks are in the driver's seat after a very impressive win. Stay tuned.