Boston won without its best player and Atlanta couldn't.
That's the difference so far in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals series between the Celtics and the Hawks as the two teams prepare to meet in Game 4 at TD Garden.
Rajon Rondo made up for missing Game 2 in a big way on Friday, recording his seventh-career playoff triple-double to lift the Celtics to a 90-84 overtime victory over the Hawks in Game 3.
Rondo scored the first four points for Boston in the extra session, before 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.
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."
Ray Allen returned for Boston after an 11-game absence due to a sore right ankle. He finished with 13 points and six rebounds.
Veteran Tracy McGrady was playing well early in place of Smith for the Hawks before rolling his right ankle. The former All-Star finished with 12 points and nine boards.
Atlanta also has injury problems on top of Smith and McGrady. Two-time All- Star big man Al Horford has missed most of the season recovering from surgery to repair a torn left pectoral muscle and his replacement in the starting lineup, Zaza Pachulia, has missed the last 10 games dating back to the regular season with a sprained left foot.
"We have been a team that has had adversity throughout the season, like everybody else, and it says a lot about your team when they can step up in the playoffs short-handed and still put themselves in a position to win the game," Hawks coach Larry Drew said.
Smith plans to play in Game 4, however.
"I'm probably going to play regardless of how it feels because I know the importance of this game," the versatile forward said. "I know that we have something special on this team."
Drew was more cautious and will wait for the morning shootaround on Sunday to make a decision.
"I think some players just have a higher tolerance for pain," the coach said. "If medically they can't go, they can't go. But if it's a situation where guys can play in pain -- and like I said, this kid is as tough as they come. If there's anybody that will push the envelope in that situation, it'll be him."
In the playoffs, this rivalry dates all the way back to the 1956-57 season when the Hawks called St. Louis home. Since moving to the Peach State in 1968, however, the Hawks have never beaten the Celtics in the postseason, losing six straight series (1972, '73, '83, '86, '88 and 2008.)
Boston also won two of three over the Hawks in the regular season, including the lone contest at TD Garden.
Game 5 is slated for Tuesday in Atlanta.