Al Horford snatched away an offensive rebound and dropped in the winning basket with 1.9 seconds left after Dennis Schroder's drive to the basket was blocked by John Wall, giving the top-seeded Atlanta Hawks an 82-81 victory over the Washington Wizards on Wednesday night and a 3-2 lead in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Paul Pierce, who made a buzzer-beating winner in Game 3, appeared to have doomed the Hawks again when his 3-pointer from the corner gave the Wizards an 81-80 lead with 8.3 seconds left. Pierce taunted the Hawks bench and home crowd on his way back down the court before bowling over Wall, who was playing for the first time since Game 1 after fracturing several bones in his left hand. Wall didn't mind, throwing up his hands in celebration.
But Atlanta had one more chance.
The Hawks gave the ball to Schroder, who ignited a fourth-quarter rally and was still in the game with All-Star point guard Jeff Teague watching from the bench. Schroder drove and had the shot swatted off the backboard by Wall.
Horford snatched the ball away from Nene, who tumbled to the court, leaving the Hawks center all alone under the basket. He put in the easy shot on a night when both teams struggled offensively, then watched the Wizards throw up a wild shot from halfcourt that didn't come close as the horn sounded.
The sellout crowd nearly stormed the court, held back by security while the Hawks celebrated. Horford pumped his fists to the crowd, having saved the Hawks with their magical season on the brink. He led the Hawks with 23 points and 11 rebounds.
Atlanta is one victory from advancing to the third round of the playoffs for the first time since moving from St. Louis in 1968. Game 6 is Friday night in Washington, and the Wizards must win to force the series back to Atlanta for a decisive Game 7.
Wall's return was the major storyline before the game. The Wizards star was injured in the series opener, fracturing several bones in his left hand when he tumbled to the court. He managed to finish that game, scoring 18 points and dishing out 13 assists as the Wizards pulled off an upset in Atlanta, but he missed the next three games.
He looked just fine in Game 5, but didn't put up his usual numbers as both offenses slogged through a tough night. Wall wound up with 15 points, seven assists and four steals, but also turned it over six times. Bradley Beal led the Wizards with 23 points.
This was a game of runs. The Hawks produced the biggest one of all, a 14-0 spurt in the fourth quarter after missing their first nine shots of the period, along with four turnovers. Kyle Korver finally scored Atlanta's first basket of the quarter, a 3-pointer with 4:58 remaining. Horford followed with another 3 from the corner, and it was tight the rest of the way.
Washington closed the first half on a 19-6 run, taking a 47-41 halftime lead. Atlanta missed seven of eight shots and turned it over three times, allowing the Wizards to pull ahead for the first time since the opening minutes. It could have been worse, but the Hawks finally made two baskets in the final 45 seconds of the half and Washington's Otto Porter missed a shot at the buzzer.
Early in the second half, the Wizards pushed their lead to 51-41 as the Hawks struggled just to hang on to the ball. After DeMarre Carroll missed a 3-pointer, Atlanta turned it over on four straight possessions. Korver threw it away twice, drawing some scattered boos from the home crowd for one of the team's most popular players.
But Washington was also careless with the ball, and the Hawks stormed back in front with a 20-7 run of their own. Atlanta led 63-62 heading to the final period, as two of the league's most talented offensive teams settled into a defensive slugfest.
Wizards: Pierce scored 11 points and hit 3 of 6 from 3-point range. ... Porter had nine points and 10 rebounds. ... Washington shot 37.5 percent.
Hawks: Korver's big 3 provided his only points of the game. He did have two blocks in the first half. ... Atlanta outrebounded the Wizards 50-46. ... The Hawks shot 41 percent.
UNLEASHING THE MOOSE
Mike Muscala was barely used by the Hawks during the first eight games of the playoffs, logging only 10 minutes of court time -- and much of that coming in the closing stages of a blowout win that clinched the first-round victory over Brooklyn.
But, after leading a furious comeback that came up just short in Game 3, Muscala has become a key member of Atlanta's rotation off the bench. He scored Atlanta first eight points of the second quarter, and had three rebounds in nearly 15 1/2 minutes.