They're not in big trouble yet, but a loss for the Boston Celtics in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Atlanta Hawks on Thursday night at TD Garden would give away everything that the team has worked for while building a 3-2 series lead.
A couple of losses in Game 1 of the series (first, a loss to the Hawks and, secondly, the loss of Rajon Rondo) made it look like Boston was in for a rough set of games. Enter Paul Pierce, and that would all change. Pierce amassed 36 points and 14 rebounds in Game 2, an 87-80 win for the Celtics, and the captain would help power his squad to wins in Games 3 and 4, resulting in a 3-1 series advantage entering Tuesday's showdown in Atlanta
Given the chance to put the Hawks out of their misery, the Celtics fell short in Game 5.
Al Horford had his best game of the postseason (considering he has only played two, that isn't saying much), totaling 19 points and 11 rebounds as the Hawks survived numerous runs from the Celtics and won 87-86 to avoid elimination, at least for one more game. Boston was presented with a golden opportunity to win the game, but Pierce's potential game-winning jumper was short and Rajon Rondo, who stole the inbound pass with 10.9 seconds, couldn't get a shot off on the other end, giving Atlanta a second chance.
Pierce, who had helped to carry Boston in its three wins, was off his game Tuesday night. He finished with a team-high 16 points, but after starting the game 4-for-6, he struggled and was clearly hobbled. Pierce admitted as much afterward, but denied that the left knee injury he suffered in Game 4 had bothered him. Pierce's status for Game 6 is still up in the air.
Injuries were a primary concern for both sides at the beginning of the series, but they're becoming less of an issue. Al Horford, who hadn't played a game in four months with a chest injury, missed the first three games of the series but returned in Game 4. Boston, meanwhile, was without Ray Allen for Games 1 and 2 but got Allen back in Game 3. Avery Bradley also suffered a left shoulder injury during Game 3, but returned and has not shown negative effects from it. Zaza Pachulia (foot) is the biggest injury question left in the series.
It's a tricky situation for Boston heading into Thursday's game, mainly because of home court advantage. Boston can lose Game 6 and still win the series, but it would have to do so on the road against a pumped up Hawks squad. Atlanta, of course, can't afford another loss. Essentially, this is a must-win game for Boston. At least, let's hope the treat it that way.