Celtics can't convert late opportunity

ATLANTA -- Celtics coach Doc Rivers lamented his team's execution down the stretch of Tuesday's 87-86 loss to the Hawks in Game 5 of an Eastern Conference quarterfinal series at Philips Arena. A couple of his grievances:

* After Paul Pierce missed a 20-foot jumper with 18.9 seconds remaining, the Celtics were slow to foul, particularly frustrating to Rivers because the team still had one to give. Ray Allen finally gave it with 10.9 seconds to go, but Boston wasted valuable time trying to go for a steal.

"We signaled to foul, but our guys decided to go for a steal first," Rivers said. "What they didn’t understand was that we had a foul to give. I told them after the game -- we talk about it every night and every day in practice -- end-of-the-game execution is going to win or lose playoff games for you. You think about it, that’s 7 extra seconds that (Rajon) Rondo would have had (for a final shot attempt). That doesn’t mean we make a shot, but you never know. We would have had extra time, and we didn't have it.”

* Despite that initial miscue, the Celtics gave themselves an opportunity to win the game when Rondo swiped the inbounds pass intended for Joe Johnson. But without a timeout, Rondo had no choice but to rush up the floor. With Josh Smith defending, he came off a pick-and-roll with Kevin Garnett, but the Hawks switched him to Al Horford, who cut Rondo off from trying to drive baseline. As Rondo tried to dribble back out toward the arc, he lost control of the ball and couldn't poke it to Garnett, the clock running out as Smith tipped the ball away.

"We were in a jumble," Rivers said. "I wish (Rondo) had went down the middle of the floor; I think you should always go down the middle of the floor, especially when have a big on you. Listen, it’s a turnover, it’s a fast break -- we were just trying to go. I thought Kevin set a nice step-up pick; I was hoping he would attack the basket. But really, I just thought he lost the ball and that threw off any chance we had.

"(Rondo) made the play, though, a terrific defensive play. We told him in the timeout, the guy they are going to throw the ball to is Joe Johnson, clearly, and they did and we got the steal, but we didn’t capitalize on it."

Rondo said of his missed opportunity, "I tried to make a play but got caught on the baseline. Give Al credit. I just didn't come up with the shot."

Pierce added, "They defended it pretty well. (Rondo) came off the pick-and-roll, they switched and then cut off the baseline. At the end of the day, he gave us a chance. We were put in a situation where we were probably going to have to foul and maybe go down 3, but he got the steal, gave us an opportunity. Unfortunately, we turned it over. Sometimes it goes like that.

"We definitely squandered away an opportunity today, but you take your hats off to the Hawks, they came with a purpose today. It's a make-or-miss league, we had our opportunities down the stretch, they played with a lot of energy, a lot of pride with their backs against the wall and won a close one."

From the Hawks' perspective, even coach Larry Drew admitted to just being happy to escape with the win.

"My heart was racing 100 miles per hour on that last sequence," Drew said. "We put our best free throw shooters in the game, but we didn't make a smart play inbounding the ball. 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. We were forced into a switch, and Al stepped up and took the ball. Rondo tried to turn the corner, but Al forced him back and then Josh deflected the ball. You're forced to make switches in those type of last-second situations."

Said Horford: "I didn't want to lose the series that way, so I didn't want to let Rondo shoot a jumper over me. You're fighting for your life out there."