Playing without Rajon Rondo, the Boston Celtics needed others to step up. Badly. They got exactly that, with Paul Pierce scoring 16 of his game-high 36 points in the first half as the Boston Celtics outlasted the Atlanta Hawks, 87-80, in a pivotal Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals on Tuesday evening at Philips Arena in Atlanta, GA.
"He was a monster. His leadership, his intensity." C's coach Doc Rivers said of Pierce.
Pierce was 12-of-26 from the field but also had 14 rebounds in 44 minutes, helping the Celtics overcome the loss of the suspended Rajon Rondo. Kevin Garnett, who again struggled in the first half, finished with 15 points and 12 rebounds and Avery Bradley found his comfort zone, scoring 14 while totaling three assists, three steals and three blocks.
"It was a team win. I can't take all the credit for this," Pierce said. "A lot of guys were contributors. Defensively, KG was amazing, just helping off on Joe johnson and Josh Smith all night, clogging up the lane, rebounding, taking big shots, making big free throws. Keyon [Dooling] was huge with the two big threes when the game could have went either way ... he hit a three to keep us in the game both times. It was a good team win."
Joe Johnson, who was held to 11 points in Game 1, scored 22 on 7-of-17 shooting and Josh Smith, who was Atlanta's hero from Game 1, had 16 points and 12 rebounds before leaving the game with a left knee sprain late in the fourth. Jeff Teague scored 18 and Kirk Hinrich chipped in with eight points. Atlanta was held to a dismal 34.9 percent shooting.
The Celtics' hot start (OK, Pierce's hot start) bought Boston an early 9-4 lead, but the Hawks knotted the score near the eight minute mark, and both teams traded blows to close out the quarter tied at 24. Atlanta bought some breathing room in the second quarter, outscoring the opposition 20-17 to take a 44-41 edge into the intermission.
Atlanta made its move in the third quarter, going up by as many as 11 points before Boston cut the lead to five points, 66-61, at the end of the third. Boston put on a dominant fourth-quarter display, outscoring Atlanta 26-14 in the quarter (thanks in part to 13 points from Pierce, including the dagger -- a straightaway three with 3:30 left in the game).
"A lot of experience, confidence, you know, being in those moments, believing in yourself, coaches that believe in you, teammates that believe in you. It's a combination of all those things," Pierce said about his late-game success. "Coming from high school, junior high, elementary. Just the confidence that you have so many people that believe in you whether you succeed or fail. There are a lot of times I've failed to just put my in this position now."
Boston's win helped it avoid an 0-2 series hole, which the Celtics have not come back from since the 1969 NBA Finals against the Lakers before winning the series in seven games. The series now transitions to Boston for Games 3 and 4. Game 3 is at 7 p.m. on Friday.