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Pierce, Celtics’ Defense Grit Out Tough Win Over Hawks in Game 2

( Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Paul Pierce scored 36 points and grabbed 14 rebounds, powering the Celtics to an 87-80 Game 2 playoff victory over the Atlanta Hawks Tuesday night. He was also caught on camera “Tebowing” late in the fourth quarter.

Josh Smith had 16 points, 12 rebounds and five assists for the Hawks, but he left midway through the fourth with a sprained knee and never return. Joe Johnson led the Hawks in scoring with 22 points.

Bradley, Defense Wakes Up After Hawks Build Lead In Third

The Hawks took an 11-point lead on a Johnson three with 3:08 to play in the third quarter, but then the Celtics defense woke up. The Celtics allowed the Hawks just four field goals and 15 points in the game’s final 15 minutes.

Though the Celtics collectively played great defense, Avery Bradley‘s ferocity sparked the Celtics at both ends. Bradley finished with three steals and three blocks to go along with 14 points. Kevin Garnett also had a fantastic effort on both ends of the court, finishing with 15 points, 12 rebounds and five assists.

Smith Injures Knee; Small Lineups Help Celtics Out-Hustle Hawks

With Smith injured and Jason Collins fouling out down the stretch, both teams were forced to go with small lineups. The Celtics’ lineup of Pierce, Garnett, Bradley, Mickael Pietrus and Marquis Daniels proved matched up better, as the vertical quickness of Pietrus and Daniels helped the Celtics stop the Hawks’ aggressive back-court.

Jeff Teague had 16 points through three quarters and was devastating to the Celtics’ defense, but he mustered only two points on free throws in the fourth quarter.

The Celtics held the Hawks to 34 percent shooting overall and out-hustled them on the glass, 45-40. Both stats showed key adjustments to the Celtics’ attack (or lack thereof) following Game 1.

Pierce Has Historic Playoff Performance as Celtics Take Momentum Back to Boston

Pierce’s performance was his first 35-point and 10-rebound game in the playoffs since 2003. With Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen both sidelined, the Celtics’ captain knew he had to step up, and he did just that.

The series now shifts to Boston tied 1-1, with the Celtics holding the most crucial x-factor in playoff basketball: momentum. The Celtics and Hawks play Game 3 Friday night at the TD Garden.

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