BOSTON - What took place on the historic parquet Sunday night at TD Garden resembled a preseason game far more than a postseason one, but that's typically what happens when only one team shows up to play. Fortunately, that team was the Boston Celtics.
Paul Pierce led the charge, scoring 24 points in 17 minutes and Rajon Rondo amassed 20 points and 16 assists as the Celtics dismantled the Atlanta Hawks,101-79, in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, giving Boston a commanding 3-1 series advantage.
"I thought it was a great win," said Pierce. "We played well, and it's definitely the best we've played this series. We haven't really played well yet, we've just been winning games. Finally we were able to put it together offensively and defensively and really play well."
Kevin Garnett finished with 13 points and five rebounds. Ray Allen had 12 points and Keyon Dooling added 10 points off the bench, Avery Bradley scored six points and made a three-pointer in his return from a left shoulder injury he suffered late in Game 3.
Josh Smith led the Hawks with 15 points and 13 rebounds in his return from a left knee strain. Hawks leading scorer Joe Johnson was held to nine points. Jannero Pargo added 11 points off the bench. Al Horford, in his first playoff game this season, had 12 points.
"The team set the tone right from the jump ball. They set the tone early, and it seems we weren't able to recover," Horford said. "I think that their base of the game in the beginning set it for the rest of the game. Give some credit to those guys coming out and playing hard."
It felt like the Celtics had the game won right from the tip-off, as they jumped ahead 13-6 behind the hot-hand of Bradley. Before you could even blink, the Celtics built a 10-point lead (25-15 at 3:13 in first quarter). The phrase "and they never looked back" is tossed out a lot in these situations, but it's very fitting for this game, because they really didn't look back.
"We were beaten in every phase of the game," said a seemingly deflated Larry Drew, the Hawks' head coach. "It started the first six minutes of the game. We did not respond very well to the pressure, to the aggressiveness that they were playing with. I believe we turned the ball over in the first quarter eight times, so right then and there we were putting ourselves in a bad situation. I just didn't think we responded very well at all."
Boston built its lead up to 23 four times in the second quarter and led 64-41 at halftime. A furious 16-2 run to start the third put the Celtics up by 37 points (80-43), their largest lead of the game, with 8:13 to play in the quarter. Boston led 90-63 at the start of the final frame, and Atlanta was able to post its only winning quarter, outscoring Boston by five, 16-11.
"Just tonight, we were in a good rhythm, a good flow," said Rondo. "But it started with all five guys getting defensive stops and that allowed us to get out into the break, get into an easy rhythm, get a couple easy layups and it triggered from there."
Boston will go for the series victory in Game 5 on Tuesday night at Philips Arena in Atlanta.