When the Celtics' Rajon Rondo made a brilliant steal in the waning seconds on Tuesday in Atlanta, you couldn't help but think of Johnny Most's iconic call, "Havlicek stole the ball."
Rondo's effort looked like it was going to be just the latest memorable moment in Boston's storied history until he fumbled it away and the Hawks avoided elimination by winning an 87-86 thriller in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.
With the Celtics down by one, Rondo swiped Josh Smith's inbounds pass and pushed the ball up the court, dribbling into the left corner. Smith and Al Horford switched defensive responsibilities, and Horford disrupted Rondo's dribble as time wound down.
By the time the dynamic point guard recovered and threw to Kevin Garnett at the top of the key, Smith tipped the ball away as the buzzer sounded, pulling the Hawks within 3-2 of a series that continues tonight back in Boston.
"The whole thing was to force [Rondo] to pass the ball. I crowded him as much as I could, and Josh made a great tip," recalled Horford of the final play.
"I hate that the game ended the way that it ended," Celtics coach Doc Rivers added after the Hawks hung on. "I thought that Rondo willed us back into the game. He really did."
Horford and Smith both shook off injuries and posted double-doubles to keep Atlanta's season alive. Horford, battling through a still-bothersome pectoral injury that caused him to miss most of the regular season, totaled 19 points and 11 rebounds, while Smith chipped in 13 and 16 despite dealing with a sore knee.
It was Smith's inbounds pass however, that nearly threw away a chance to seal the win with 10.9 seconds remaining.
"My heart was racing a hundred miles an hour on the last sequence," Hawks coach Larry Drew said. "We didn't make a smart play inbounding the ball, but I'm glad (Smith) had the presence of mind on the last play to step up on Rondo."
Jeff Teague donated 16 points in Game 5 for the Hawks, who got 15 points apiece from Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams.
The Celtics received 16 points apiece from Garnett and a hobbled Paul Pierce, also limited due to a knee injury. Ray Allen added 15 points, and Rondo finished with 13 points and 12 assists in defeat.
"I didn't like our execution down the stretch," Rivers said. "We did a couple of things we shouldn't have done, but overall I just thought [the Hawks] played harder. They played better."
The Celtics announced early Thursday that Pierce has a sprained MCL in his left knee but he will be available to play. The team also said that starting two guard Avery Bradley has been playing with a sore rotator cuff in his left shoulder. He also is expected to start and play in Game 6 tonight.
"It's a little sore," Bradley said after Thursday's shootaround. "It's something I've been dealing with all season."
In the playoffs, this rivalry dates all the way back to the 1956-57 season when the Hawks called St. Louis home. Since moving to the Peach State in 1968, however, the Hawks have never beaten the Celtics in the postseason, losing six straight series (1972, '73, '83, '86, '88 and 2008.)
Boston also won two of three over the Hawks in the regular season, including the lone contest at TD Garden.
Game 7, if necessary, is slated for Saturday back in Atlanta.