Game Six of the Celtics-Hawks series was nothing short of phenomenal playoff basketball. The intensity was reminiscent of the 1988 playoff series between the two teams.
The Celtics came out of the gates strong, ending the first quarter up 32-20. Paul Pierce exploited the Hawks' defense, making 4-of-6 shots.
The lead was short-lived however, as the Hawks bounced back in the second quarter. Feeding off of the energy from the rambunctious crowd, the young Atlanta team whittled the lead to one point by halftime.
With the teams trading baskets for most of the third quarter, the game entered the fourth with the Celtics leading 82-79.
A pivotal moment in the game came with 4:43 left, as the referees called Paul Pierce for his sixth foul. Pierce subsequently picked up a technical by throwing his headband, clearly irate with the call.
The replay showed that the foul was indeed something of a phantom call. It was not a call that one might expect the refs to call on one of the league's stars, especially given the situation.
Aided by a span of more than five minutes where the Celtics did not hit a field goal, the Hawks were leading 102-100 as they sent Mike Bibby to the line with seven seconds left. However, Bibby only made the second free throw.
With a chance to tie it with a three, Rajon Rondo dribbled the ball quickly across halfcourt. He waited for a second...and he waited...and he waited. As the clock neared zero, Rondo hoisted a prayer (especially given his suspect jump shot) from 28 feet, lit.
Um...what? That could not have been the plan that Doc had drawn up during the timeout before Bibby's free throws. It was a very poor shot, wasting an opportunity to send the game to overtime and possibly win the series.
This is to take nothing away from the Hawks, who deserved to win this game regardless of whether Rondo hit that shot. They have proved that they have a solid foundation of young players, as well as a passionate fan base.
With Game Seven in Boston on Sunday, the Celtics remain the favorite, as they should. The first three games in the Garden were blowouts in the Celtics favor.
However, the Celtics can't afford the same mistakes they made in Game Six if they want to finish this feisty Hawks team.