Randy Wittman had played a nearly flawless basketball game, hitting 11 of 13 field goals in 37 minutes and winding up his team's second-leading scorer (22 points) behind Dominique Wilkins.
He was also looking for the perfect finish -- a miracle ending -- with Wilkins at the foul line and the Hawks down by 3 points with one second to play.
"After 'Nique made the first (to cut the lead to 118-116) I remembered a regular-season game when we were losing to the Knicks with one second to play," said Wittman. "We deliberately missed the foul shot, scored on the tip-in and won the game in overtime."
That wasn't to be, but Wittman, like his teammates, actually felt a sense of elation, as athletes, at participating in what had to be the game of their lives.
"This has to be one of the great series ever played," said Wittman. "For each of us to lose a game on our own court and then come down to a seventh game decided by 2 points -- there aren't any better ones.
"We're upset and disappointed that we lost, but I'm sure the Celtics felt they were in a war and are glad to see us leave. Nobody gave us a chance going into the playoffs. We're a young team and hopefully this will carry over."
Wittman felt that if the Hawks' effort and execution yesterday had been matched in Game 6 in Atlanta, "we wouldn't be here today. But there's so many ifs. Boston probably would say the same thing about Game 5."
Wittman said the Larry Bird-Dominique Wilkins fourth-quarter give-and-take was "what leadership is all about. They're the guys you go to."
At the final buzzer, Wittman said he felt depressed. "I didn't want to leave the floor. It was that kind of game. I could have stayed out there 'til dark," he said with a faint smile. "I didn't feel that much pressure. I think there was more pressure on the Celtics."
Hawks forward Antoine Carr hailed Bird "for playing one of the greatest fourth quarters he's ever had. The guy just turned it on. He hit some bombs, some in-between shots, some left-hand things.
"This was one of the greatest NBA games a person could ever see," said Carr, who had 13 points on 6-for-8 shooting. "That fourth quarter was crazy. I kept wondering which one, Larry or Dominique, was going to wilt first. Both were tired. Both were working extremely hard.
"Hey, it doesn't get any better than this other than winning it. We didn't back off one inch," said Carr. "I'll always remember this as a great game. I actually enjoyed it."
Doc Rivers (16 points, 18 assists) also didn't offer any excuses for losing. "It was a fast game," he said. "It was a transition game. Hey, if somebody told us the winning team was going to score 118 points, I'd have said it would be the Hawks.
"It was our kind of game, that's why it hurts so much to lose. But you couldn't ask anything more of anybody on either team. No one here as a spectator today could go away anything but happy at what they saw."
Rivers said Danny Ainge committed "an extremely smart foul" that put Wilkins on the line for two foul shots with the Hawks needing a three-pointer at the buzzer to tie.
"But even then, I kept thinking we might pull it out," said Rivers. "We didn't, but that was the best basketball game I've ever been involved in."
To a man, the vanquished Hawks knew that they had been part of a happening, and they put their disappointment on the shelf, preferring to talk about the game of their lives.
It was a bittersweet ending.
"Now we've had a taste of what it could be like," said Rivers.
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