- Chris Forsberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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Brandon Bass and Jeff Teague are left flailing around the basket during Game 4 action.BOSTON -- Rapid reaction after the Boston Celtics defeated the Atlanta Hawks 101-79 in Game 4 of an Eastern Conference quarterfinal series at TD Garden. Boston now leads the series three games to one.
HOW THE GAME WAS WON
Paul Pierce connected on 10 of 13 shots (4 of 6 beyond the arc) while scoring a game-high 24 points over a mere 17 minutes, while Rajon Rondo added a double-double (20 points and 16 assists) as the Celtics put together their best offensive performance of the postseason, shooting 51.2 percent (41-of-80 overall) and throttling the Hawks. Ray Allen (12 points) and Keyon Dooling (10 points) added a little punch off the pine for Boston, which put six players in double figures. Josh Smith scored a team-high 15 points for the Hawks, while Al Horford -- making a surprising return -- chipped in 12 points over 20 minutes.
The Celtics were up 12 with under eight minutes to play in the second quarter when they really busted this game open, doubling their lead with a 12-0 run fueled entirely by Pierce and Brandon Bass. Pierce hit a pair of 3-pointers and a midrange jumper, while Bass utilized a little elbow-swinging clearout to produce a dunk in traffic before canning a 20-foot jumper. Boston owned its biggest lead of the first half 51-27 with 6:14 to play before the intermission.
BOLD PLAY OF THE GAME
Boston's run didn't boast much for flash. The Celtics simply made shots (shooting 63.6 percent overall in the first half). Let's give the bold play to Rondo, who, with the Celtics up nine (25-16) late in the first quarter, gave up his body by absorbing a hard charge from Jannero Pargo on a fast break. Rondo followed with a 19-foot jumper on the next possession to push the lead to double digits.
FAST START SET TONE FOR C'S
The Celtics came out on fire, shooting 66.7 percent (14 of 21) in the first quarter and opening a 32-19 cushion with their best 12 minutes of hoops of the series. Pierce (5-of-7, 10 points in 10 minutes) and Rondo (all seven of the team's assists) spearheaded the offensive exploits, while Garnett chipped in seven points and Avery Bradley -- bum left shoulder and all -- made two of four shots over the first 3:41 of the frame to help light the fuse.
PIERCE TO LOCKER ROOM AFTER BANGING KNEE
Pierce made eight of his first 11 shots for 18 points, but the Hawks found one way to slow him down: Caught in traffic on defense, Pierce banged his left knee midway through the second quarter and retreated to the locker room with team physician Dr. Brian McKeon. Pierce departed with 5:45 to play in the quarter and the Celtics on top 51-29. The team classified the injury as a sore left knee, but he returned at the start of the second half, then spent much of the half riding the exercise bike. Considering the heavy minutes he played in recent games, it was a rare breezy evening for Pierce and he maximized his court time.
HORFORD RETURNS FOR HAWKS
Horford, sidelined since tearing his left pectoral muscle against the Pacers on Jan. 11, returned to the floor in Game 4. Checking in with 5:20 to play in the first quarter, it took a mere 7 seconds before he got tagged with an offensive foul trying to clear out some space (and his elbow finding the face of Celtics rookie center Greg Stiemsma).
C'S GO COLD ... BUT IT REALLY DOESN'T MATTER
The Celtics pushed a 23-point halftime lead as high as 37 in the third frame, then went cold. Boston endured a seven-minute streak without a bucket, but even a 15-0 run for the Hawks could whittle the lead to only 22 (82-60 with 1:45 to play in the third). Of all the ways to end the drought, Ray Allen, off the dribble, fed Rajon Rondo on the right wing for a late-clock 3-pointer. Allen followed with his own 3-pointer and Rondo added his signature behind-the-back-fake finger roll and the lead was back at 30 in the final seconds of the quarter.
WILCOX DROPS IN FOR GAME 4
Center Chris Wilcox, who underwent surgery to repair an aortic aneurysm earlier this season, sat courtside opposite the Celtics' bench and supported his former teammates. In need of roster space, the Celtics waived Wilcox in late March in order to sign center Ryan Hollins.
WHAT IT MEANS
Turn out the lights, the party's (pretty much) over. OK, so nothing's a guarantee with these Celtics, particularly with two of the three final games in Atlanta (if the Hawks win Games 5-6). But since the NBA expanded to a 16-team playoff format during the 1983-84 season, teams that own a 3-1 advantage are a 194-8 in those series, a ridiculous .960 winning percentage. The Hawks, sensing the must-win nature of Game 4, brought out the big guns with Horford and Smith returning to action and it didn't matter. Boston put together its best effort of the postseason and ensured that the only drawn-out drama on this day was over at Fenway Park. E'Twaun Moore got his first playoff experience, checking in with eight minutes to play in the fourth quarter (and missing a corner 3 soon after). Game 5 is back in Atlanta on Tuesday (8 p.m., TNT).
4dMatt Walks, ESPN.com
5dESPN Stats and Information Group