On a night where he knew he would have to come up big, Paul Pierce poured in 36 points and grabbed 14 rebounds to power the Boston Celtics to an 87-80 victory over the Atlanta Hawks Tuesday night.
Despite being without guard Rajon Rondo, who was suspended for one game for bumping an official in Game 1, and Ray Allen, out with an ankle injury, the Celtics were able to tie the series at a game apiece with a second-half surge.
"With Rondo being out I knew I had to step up my scoring tonight. Every guy stepped up tonight. We played great defense throughout," Pierce said. "That took a lot of pressure off me so I could be more aggressive on the offensive end. It was a team win."
Hawks coach Larry Drew was not surprised by Pierce's effort.
"We expected him to come out very aggressive. I told our guys we would just have to stay the course throughout the game" Drew said of Pierce's big night. "We tried to make things as tough as we could and contest some of his shots. He came out very strong, but we were still in a good position even after that. He didn't do anything that we didn't expect from him tonight."
The Hawks also have an injury concern.
Josh Smith didn't return after leaving the game with 4:20 left in the fourth quarter. Smith sprained his left knee on a missed layup with 5:14 remaining, and it's unclear whether he will be available for Game 3.
"I don't know much about (Smith)" Drew said. "We were missing all of the things that he brings to the table for us, especially down low. We tried to play small to match up to them and try to open up the floor a little bit, but we didn't have that low post presence that we needed."
Atlanta seemed to have the game in hand early in the second half, getting off to the fast start in the third quarter to grab an 11-point advantage.
Smith, who finished with 16 points, had six points and six rebounds in that quarter, and Joe Johnson, who had 22 points on the night, had a big 3-pointer to give the team a 65-54 lead.
But the Celtics continued to battle.
Keyon Dooling came up with his second of two big 3-pointers in the third to keep the Celtics close, and the Celtics went on a 30-15 run to take 79-72 lead with 3:30 left in the fourth quarter.
It would be a lead the Celtics would not relinquish.
Kevin Garnett finished with 15 points and 12 rebounds for Boston, which gave the Hawks everything they could handle in the first half, which ended with Atlanta clinging to a 44-41 lead.
The Celtics were able to stay in the game with major contributions from Avery Bradley and Garnett.
Pierce got off to a hot start, scoring the first nine points for the Celtics, while the Hawks struggled to get into the game early.
Smith missed a dunk and started just 2-for-7 after being the Hawks' star in Game 1.
The Hawks were able to withstand the early salvo with timely buckets from Johnson and Jeff Teague, who also had a huge block on a three-point attempt by Bradley.
Pierce finished the half with 16 points, while Teague had 12 for the Hawks, who led by six points late in the second quarter and took a three-point lead into halftime.
The Celtics were finally able to put together get a solid offensive performance late in the game, outscoring the Hawks 26-14 in the fourth quarter.
"We've won games this year without some of our keys players," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "This is a tough-minded basketball team, and having a lot of veterans on your team helps with that."