BOSTON − John Havlicek against the 76ers. Larry Bird against the Pistons.
When Rajon Rondo intercepted a Hawks pass in the final seconds of Game 5, he had a chance to add to the list of memorable Celtics playoff steals.
Then he fumbled it away.
“I hate that the game ended the way that it ended,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said after Atlanta held on for an 87-86 victory in Game 5 of their first-round playoff series to force a sixth game in Boston on Thursday night. “I thought that Rondo willed us back into the game. He really did.”
Rondo already had 13 points and 12 assists when he grabbed his fifth steal of the game, intercepting an inbounds pass from Al Horford to Josh Smith with 10.9 seconds left and Atlanta leading by one. Boston had no timeouts left, so Rondo moved up the court along the left side, where Horford trapped him. Kevin Garnett stepped back to receive the pass, but Rondo lost control of the ball and Smith tipped it away as the buzzer sounded.
“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 when he came flying up the court.”
The Celtics have a record 17 NBA titles and a lot of history over the years, and steals are prominent among their most memorable plays. Johnny Most’s call of “Havlicek stole the ball!” in the 1965 Eastern Conference finals against Philadelphia is one of the most famous in sports history, and Bird’s steal against Isiah Thomas to beat Detroit during the 1987 playoffs was just as impressive.
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