Atlanta, GA – Without Rajon Rondo or Ray Allen, Paul Pierce put the Celtics on his back, scoring 36 points and grabbing 14 rebounds to lead Boston to an 87-80 victory over the Hawks in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal matchup at Philips Arena.
Rondo missed the contest after being suspended for one game by the NBA for making contact with referee Marc Davis with 41 seconds left in the Celtics' 83-74 Game 1 loss Sunday, while Allen missed his 11th straight game with an injured right ankle.
Kevin Garnett recorded 15 points and 12 rebounds, while Rondo's replacement, Avery Bradley, added 14 points to help the Celtics even the best-of-seven series.
"I told our guys, it was just a team win," said Boston head coach Doc Rivers. "You can pick out so many different little things that every single guy that played on the floor did for us and that's how you grind out wins and that's who we are."
Joe Johnson led the way for Atlanta with 22 points and Jeff Teague chipped in 18. Josh Smith added 16 points and 12 boards, but departed the game with a left knee sprain with 4:20 left in the fourth quarter.
Game 3 is slated for Friday in Boston.
After starting the series 0-for-19 from long range, Boston got it's first three-pointer of the series with 6:35 left in third stanza as Keyon Dooling buried a trey from the left corner, bringing the Celtics within 55-49.
Atlanta led 65-54 three minutes later after a triple from Johnson but Boston closed the quarter with a 7-1 swing, cutting the deficit to 66-61 to start the fourth.
The Celtics continued to surge, scoring the first five of the fourth to tie the game at 66-66 before a Marquis Daniels dunk put Boston on top 74-72.
While battling for a rebound, Smith injured his left knee and went to the locker room, allowing Pierce to take advantage as he quickly finished a fastbreak dunk before burying a three-pointer to give Boston a 79-72 lead.
Johnson answered with a three-point play and, after another Pierce jumper, 3- of-4 from the free throw line to cut the margin to 81-78.
But the Hawks went cold from the field, missing their next three field goal attempts as Boston went 6-of-6 from the stripe over the final 90 seconds to even the series at one game apiece.
"We will not hang our heads at this point," said Atlanta head coach Larry Drew. "There's just too much basketball to be played. It gives us an opportunity to go up (to Boston) and show what we're all about and show what we've been about all season."
Pierce made his presence felt early, scoring Boston's first nine points as the Celtics took a 9-4 lead but five straight from Teague late in the first sent the teams into the second knotted at 24-24.
Boston led by five in the second after a 10-5 start to the frame, but Atlanta responded with a 9-0 run, capped by four straight points by Smith to take a 38-34 edge before they carried a 44-41 advantage into the locker room.
Boston is now 9-5 without Rondo this season..Boston had lost four straight road playoff games coming into tonight...The Hawks outscored the Celtics 42-26 in the paint despite being outrebounded 45-40.