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Pierce, Rondo Help Celtics Crush Hawks in Game 4

Paul Pierce shoots against Jason Collins during Sunday's Game 4 of the Celtics-Hawks Eastern Conference Quarterfinals at the TD Garden. (Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images)

Atlanta Hawk Joe Johnson drained a jumper 19 seconds into Sunday’s Game 4 against the Boston Celtics at the TD Garden.

The Hawks never led after that. What should have been a basketball game turned out to be a massacre.

Between Paul Pierce‘s lethal shooting and Rajon Rondo‘s mesmerizing passing, the Celtics crushed the Hawks, 101-79, taking a 3-1 series lead in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.

Pierce Lights Up Hawks Early

Pierce only played about 16 minutes Sunday, but while on the court he couldn’t be stopped. The Hawks put as many as three players in Pierce’s face, and he still knocked down jumpers using his trademark step-back shot.

Doc Rivers didn’t have Pierce waste energy guarding Johnson on defense, and Pierce rewarded Rivers with 24 points on 10-of-13 shooting. He knocked down four three-pointers, grabbed four rebounds and blocked two shots.

Pierce scored 10 first-quarter points, including the Celtics’ first basket on the first of 16 assists from Rondo. Between Pierce’s penetration and Kevin Garnett‘s domination in the low post (13 points on 6-of-8 shooting), the Celtics built a 32-19 lead after one quarter. Pierce continued humiliating the Hawks in the second, hitting two more three-pointers without even noticing defenders around him.

Only tangling with Hawks power forward Josh Smith (team-high 15 points) midway through the second could derail Pierce’s offense, and Pierce fell to the parquet after banging knees with Smith. Pierce got up and walked off on his own power, but he immediately went to the locker room and did not return in the first half.

Celtics trainers called it a soar knee, and Pierce returned to start the second half with the Celtics up 64-41. Clearly hobbled by the collision, Pierce played just the first 3:37 of the third before subbing out for good. In that brief time, Pierce hit two more treys to make it 77-43 Celtics – they led by as many as 37 – and effectively turn the second half into garbage time.

Starters Back Up Pierce

Boston’s starters shot better than 60 percent Sunday night, with four of them scoring in double digits. Rondo backed up his 16 assists with 20 points, stroking jump shot after jump shot, including two three-pointers. He stole three passes, including one which he turned into a 17-9 layup in the first, and didn’t turn the ball over until the game was well out of reach. He also scored on a fake behind-the-back pass with 1.9 seconds left in the third for a 90-63 lead.

Rondo’s 72.7 percent shooting in Game 4 ranks second behind a Jan. 18 win over the Raptors in accuracy this season. His usual assortment of dazzlingly creative yet always on-target passes paved the way for 56 more Celtics points. Brandon Bass in particular loved having Rondo on the court, with two of his three baskets coming off passes from Rondo. Bass finished with 10 points.

Only Avery Bradley didn’t score in double digits Sunday, but he made his mark defensively, helping force 17 turnovers (he stole one himself) and hold the Hawks under 41 percent shooting. Bradley also broke a 6-6 tie early in the first by scoring five on back-to-back baskets that put the Celtics ahead for good.

Allen Leads Well-Used Bench

Ray Allen and Keyon Dooling scored most of the Celtics bench’s points, kicking in 12 and 10, respectively. Back-to-back three-pointers from Rondo and Allen broke a third-quarter scoring drought of seven-plus minutes following Pierce’s exit, pushing the lead to 88-60. Dooling, meanwhile, scored the first two baskets of the second and the final basket of the game (a three-pointer, the Celtics’ 11th).

While the other six Celtics combined for just six points – Marquis Daniels scored four, Greg Stiemsma two – they played solid enough defense for Rivers to keep them on the court for extended minutes. With the Big 4 averaging over 43 minutes apiece in Friday’s Game 3, the Celtics happily traded scoring for extended rest during the fourth quarter.

The Celtics reserves barely scored, but they kept the Hawks off the board while getting some valuable playoff experience. And with Game 5 looming Tuesday, Celtics fans hope the extra rest the starters got translates into an equally dominating performance in Atlanta.

Should that happen, the Celtics can enjoy a lot more than 20 minutes off their feet.

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