BOSTON Paul Pierce was not even close to being the Paul Pierce that the Boston Celtics know and love.
But the Captain - all the C's for that matter - did what they had to do to get the win, 83-80.
And with it, the Celtics move on to the second round of the playoffs where they will face seventh-seed Philadelphia. Games 1 and 2 will be in Boston on Saturday and Monday, respectively.
Pierce still finished with a respectable 18 points, seven assists and five rebounds, but it was clear that the sprained MCL injury in his left knee was bothering him enough to at the very least, throw off his timing.
"That's the beauty of this team," Pierce said. "When you got four guys, Kevin (Garnett), myself, (Rajon) Rondo and Ray (Allen), it's never on one person's back. We all take pressure off each other. And it was just a beautiful thing to watch and be a part of."
Said Rivers: "Paul just gave us everything he had, but didn't have a lot."
Among the things Pierce was able to provide was someone attacking the rim and getting to the free throw line - something he did very little of in Boston's two previous games in which he shot just one free throw compared to shooting 30 in the C's first three playoff games against the Hawks.
On Thursday, Pierce went to the line eight times which was pretty close to the number of free throw attempts (9.3) he averaged in Celtics victories prior to closing out the series on Thursday.
Pierce getting to the line was indeed a contributing factor in Bostons' series-clinching win. Here are some other keys highlighted prior to the game, and how those keys actually played out.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Boston will look to shore up its defense against the Hawks' 3-point shooting. A big part of this will have to do with the C's doing a better job of rotating out to the Hawks' shooters. In the second quarter of Boston's Game 5 loss, Atlanta connected on four consecutive 3-pointers that in hindsight, gave the Hawks the kind of confidence that they rode for the rest of the game.
WHAT WE SAW: Atlanta's 3-point shooting once again gave them a chance at victory as they connected on 7-of-15 attempts. Marvin Williams and Joe Johnson did the most damage from 3-point range against Boston as they combined for six of the team's seven 3s.
MATCHUP TO WATCH: Brandon Bass vs. Josh Smith: This has been a really tough matchup for Bass, but he's starting to figure out how to deliver offensively in a similar fashion displayed during the regular season. Bass has scored in double figures the last two games, which includes 14 points - the most he has scored in this series - in Boston's Game 5 loss. As for Smith, the sprained left knee injury that has bothered him for the bulk of this series still hasn't prevented him from being a double-double machine that the C's have yet to find an answer for containing.
WHAT WE SAW: Smith got the best of Bass in this battle, although Bass did a much better job than previous games in keeping Smith from going bonkers on the boards. Smith had 18 points but grabbed just nine rebounds - the first game in this series in which he did not snatch double digit rebounds. Bass did a decent job defensively (he had two blocked shots) and rebounding the ball, with six - only Garnett who grabbed a game-high 14 rebounds had more boards among the C's players, than Bass.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Al Horford was the best player on the floor in Game 5 when it mattered most - the fourth quarter. It wasn't so much that he scored 19 points and grabbed 11 rebounds as much as it was the timing of those points, that hurt the Celtics so much. His play has improved from one game to the next, but you have to wonder is he ratcheting up his play too quickly and thus making himself more vulnerable to some type of physical setback.
WHAT WE SAW: Horford had stretches of impressive play, but he was never able to manufacture the excitement and energy he brought to the floor in the Hawks' Game 5 win. He finished with 15 points on 6-for-9 shooting, with nine rebounds.
STAT TO TRACK: Even though Ray Allen is coming off the bench now, he's still playing starter-like minutes. So you know it's only a matter of time before he delivers a vintage Ray Allen, starter-like game. He has had some good games as a reserve, but has failed to surpass the 20-point barrier in 11 straight games - the longest such streak he has had with the Celtics. Considering the magnitude of tonight's game and the fact that he has yet to surpass the 20-point mark, it wouldn't be all that shocking if his shot-making propelled the C's to a win tonight and with it, moving them on to the next round of the playoffs.
WHAT WE SAW: Ray Allen's shooting never really came into play much, as he finished with 7 points while missing six of his second shot attempts.