By Matt Winkeljohn, for NBA.com
THE FACTS: No Rajon Rondo, no Ray Allen, no problem for the Boston Celtics. They had Paul Pierce and mettle to spare Tuesday night when they evened their series against the Hawks and stole the home-court edge with an 87-80 Game 2 win in Atlanta.
The Hawks appeared to have the game under control with an 11-point lead late in the third quarter before Boston threw a blanket on the home team, and after a dreadful Game 1 performance in which he made just 5-of-19 shots, Pierce scored Boston's first seven on the way to 36 points and 14 rebounds.
After Atlanta took a 65-54 lead on Joe Johnson's 3-pointer with 3:08 left in the third quarter, Pierce outscored the Hawks 18-15 by himself through the end of the game.
The rest of the Celtics added 14 points, and when Atlanta lost forward Josh Smith to a left knee injury in the fourth quarter, that left the Hawks without their top four big men. Boston smothered Atlanta in the final quarter when the Hawks shot just 4-for-19 and the Celtics blocked three shots.
With Rondo suspended for bumping official Marc Davis in Game 1, and Allen still shelved by a problematic right ankle, the Celtics slid Avery Bradley from shooting guard to the point, and he responded with 14 points, three assists, three steals and three blocked shots against one turnover.
Mickael Pietrus opened at the other guard spot, and although he was scoreless his work was central -- chiefly with that of Pierce -- in limiting Johnson to just four shots over the final 15:08. Johnson made one.
Though the Celtics lagged the NBA in rebounding in the regular season, they won the battle of the boards 45-40 as Pierce led in that category, too, and Kevin Garnett pitched in 12 to go with 15 points.
Smith had 16 points, 12 rebounds and five assists for the Hawks, but no other Atlanta player had more than six rebounds (Marvin Williams, off the bench).
When Smith left for good with 4:20 after spraining his knee a little earlier, the Hawks trailed just 74-72. Atlanta officials referred to his injury as a sprained knee, and coach Larry Drew said no more will be known until, "his tests."
The Hawks had very little interior presence from there. Centers Al Horford and Zaza Pachulia were injured and in street clothes, and starting center Jason Collins -- who barely played during the regular season -- had fouled out with 8:25 left in the game.
So Drew went small down the stretch with rookie forward Ivan Johnson and four guards -- Johnson, Jeff Teague, Kirk Hinrich and Willie Green.
Soon after Smith subbed out for good, Pietrus picked off a poor Johnson pass, and Pierce --who had given Boston its first lead since early in the game with a short jumper (72-70) with 6:30 left in the game -- finished off a fastbreak with a dunk for a 76-72 lead with 3:59 remaining.
Atlanta was only briefly within four points after that. Johnson made one of two free throws with 1:35 on the clock to cut the deficit to 81-78 and finish with 22 points.
But Garnett, Pierce and Avery Bradley each made a pair of free throws from there and the Hawks mustered only a late jumper by Green.
QUOTABLE: "The only way we were going to win a game like that without Ray and Rondo was if Paul had a game like this."
-- Celtics coach Doc Rivers
QUOTABLE II: "These types of moments is what being a professional is all about. When you play defense like that, you give yourself a chance. Every game we've played [the Hawks] this year has been awfully close so we'll just have to take things one game at a time when we get back home."
STAT: 8-0/16-6: These were Boston's edges in fastbreak points in the fourth quarter and in the second half. Beyond rebounding, which is usually an Achilles' heel for the Celtics, and the obvious importance of Boston's defense, the visitors beat the Hawks at their own game.
QUOTABLE III: "We wanted to get out and run tonight, and try to speed up the game, but we ended up getting into more of a half-court game and playing against set defense. In the fourth quarter, they just kept pushing us out further and further off out sweet spots."
TURNING POINT: Trailing 65-54 after Johnson's aforementioned trey with 3:08 left in the third quarter, the Celtics went on a 12-1 run over the remnants of the period and the first 3:11 of the fourth to tie the game at 66 as Atlanta missed nine straight shots and had a shot clock violation.
HOT: Pierce came out smoking. Garnett won the opening tip, and Pierce went straight to the basket with it to score. He scored Boston's next two baskets as well, the third being the front end of an and-one. He scored 13 points in the first quarter on 5-for-9 shooting, and 13 points in the fourth quarter on 5-for-7 shooting. In each of those periods, he had had four rebounds as well. . . . By one view, the Celtics were fairly dreadful in the third quarter, making just 4-of-15 shots with four turnovers. But they out-rebounded the Hawks 15-11 and more importantly Keyon Dooling made two 3-points shots -- Boston's first of the series -- and the C's went 10-for-12 at the free-throw line. . . . Pierce added the Celtics' third trey of the night (and his only make in 11 tries in the series) with 3:30 left in the game for a 79-72 Boston lead. He made 12-of-26 shots, and 11-of-13 free throws.
NOT: Pierce had game highs in points, rebounds, free throws attempted and made and . . . turnovers (eight). That was a function of him handling the ball so much more with Rondo out. . . . Marvin Williams made just 1-of-6 shots, and after finishing the season fairly strong off the Atlanta bench, he's made just 2-of-11 shots (18.2 percent) in the series. The former starter is averaging 2.5 points per game, or less than Ivan Johnson (5.0), Collins (4.0) and Tracy McGrady (3.5). . . . Boston has made just 3-of-25 3-pointers in two games. . . . Fellow sub Green has scored just two points in each game so far. . . . Pietrus has missed all five of his shots in the series.
IN THE ARENA: Recording The Dream and T.I. were courtside.
NOTABLE: Hawks officials are hopeful that Pachulia (sprained left foot) might be able to play by Game 5, next Tuesday in Atlanta. ... Vladimir Radmanovic has not played in the series, but given Marvin Williams' work so far may see action in Boston.
UP NEXT: For both teams, Friday @ Boston, Sunday @ Boston, Tuesday @ Atlanta (if necessary).