Rajon Rondo made up for missing Game 2 in a big way, recording his seventh-career playoff triple-double to lift the Celtics to a 90-84 overtime victory over the Hawks in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal matchup at TD Garden on Friday.
Rondo scored the first four points for Boston in the extra session, but a Joe Johnson layup had the Hawks within two with under two minutes to play.
After both teams came up empty on their next possessions, Rondo got to the bucket but missed long on a layup attempt. However, Kevin Garnett was there for the putback slam to make it a four-point game and Boston went 2-of-4 from the line down the stretch to hang on for the victory.
Rondo, who missed Game 2 as he served a one-game suspension for making contact with an official in Game 1, finished with 17 points, 14 rebounds and 12 assists. Game 2 hero Paul Pierce added 21 points while Garnett added a double- double with 20 points and 13 boards to give Boston a 2-1 edge in the series.
"It wasn't a pretty win, but it was a win," admitted Boston head coach Doc Rivers. "Overtime was great. We executed better and we got what we wanted."
The Hawks, playing without star forward Josh Smith after he injured his knee late in their Game 2 loss, got 29 points from Johnson, while Jeff Teague chipped in 23 points and six assists.
Game 4 of the series is slated for Sunday in Boston.
The Celtics led, 60-58, to start the fourth and held a slim one-point lead just over two minutes in when Rondo finished a layup before finding a wide- open Pierce for a three-pointer on the next possession to spark an 11-1 swing for the home team.
Garnett's jumper capped the run for a 76-65 lead with seven minutes left to play, but Atlanta wouldn't go quietly, scoring seven of the next nine points to pull within 78-72 with just under five minutes remaining.
The margin was 80-72 with four minutes to play when Atlanta reeled off eight straight points, as Johnson buried a three-pointer from the left wing to tie the game with 1:23 remaining.
Both teams then had a chance to win the game in regulation, but Willie Green was off the mark on his mid-range attempt before Pierce's jumper hit the back of the rim as the horn sounded to send the game into overtime.
"We definitely felt like we could have won," remarked Johnson. "We just didn't come up with those big plays in overtime. We had a couple of tough shots that we didn't make. We definitely felt like we let one get away."
Earlier in the game, Boston trailed, 19-17, after the first quarter, shooting a dreadful 28.6 percent from the field in the frame.
Atlanta got a charge from veteran Tracy McGrady in the second, who came off the bench to score 10 points in the stanza, as his finger roll layup gave the Hawks a 27-22 lead with 7:05 left until halftime.
After trading runs, Boston had the final say, scoring six straight to close the half and take a 40-38 edge into the locker room.
Boston jumped ahead by six in the third after a Garnett layup, but a triple from Johnson sparked a 7-0 surge as the Hawks regained a one-point lead, 51-50, with just over four minutes left in the quarter.
The Celtics regained control with six straight late in the third, but Teague nailed a jumper to make it a 60-58 contest heading into the fourth.
Ray Allen returned for Boston after an 11-game absence due to a sore right ankle. He finished with 13 points and six rebounds...The Hawks dominated the paint, outscoring the Celtics 52-36...The game was tied 15 times and saw 16 lead changes...McGrady finished with 12 points and nine boards.