Rajon Rondo was suspended for a game. Ray Allen still wasn’t on the court. The Boston Celtics were looking at a 2-0 hole if they allowed the Atlanta Hawks to snag both home games to start the series. But thanks to an incredible performance from Paul Pierce (and a potentially series-altering knee injury for Josh Smith), Boston rallied from an 11-point deficit to tie the series at 1-1.
Despite being shorthanded, Bradon Bass’ struggles and Michael Pietrus putting up a goose egg as a starter, the Celtics got the much-needed road win to keep themselves in the series. Paul Pierce struggled with his shooting after scoring Boston’s first nine points, but had a dominant performance when his team needed him the most in the fourth quarter, finishing with 36 points, 14 rebounds and four assists to stun an Atlanta side that may be without their best player moving forward. Pierce’s performance was extremely impressive, as he lead his undermanned team to victory in a must-win situation, but without Josh Smith on the court, the Hawks had no chance. Jeff Teague had 18 points and Joe Johnson put up 22 points, but Atlanta’s lack of depth and Smith leaving the court with 4:20 remaining after spraining his left knee helped Paul Pierce’s incredible last quarter finish it off.
Pierce’s fourth quarter was extraordinary. Let’s not take anything away from him becoming one of three players in Celtics history to put up numbers like that. But what’s not getting enough play is the potential impact that Josh Smith’s injury might have on this series. He was scheduled for an MRI today and has patellar tendinitis, leaving him doubtful for Friday’s Game 3. But if he’s out for more than one game, the Celtics will waltz into the second round with no real challenge. Atlanta is already missing Zaza Pachulia down low, but when you’re talking about the Hawks’ best scorer, rebounder and shot-blocker, Smith’s injury could have a huge effect on the rest of this series. I already picked Boston to win this series pretty handily, but with Smith out, it will become a cakewalk. J-Smooth has already had a tremendous impact in the first two games of this series. After notching 22 points and 18 rebounds in Game 1, he put up a respectable 16-point, 12-rebound, 5-assist, 2-block performance in Game 2 despite missing the last four minutes. Smith’s presence in the paint has also limited Brandon Bass to just 8 points a game thus far, keeping Boston from overwhelming the Hawks with depth.
If Smith is out for an extended period of time, you can expect Brandon Bass and Kevin Garnett to flourish once again, especially now that Rondo will be back for Game 3 to distribute the ball and get his teammates better looks at the basket. Paul Pierce made up for his lackluster Game 1 performance and seems to be back on track When you combine that with Avery Bradley’s consistently improving play and the fact that Rajon Rondo will be coming back with a chip on his shoulder, Atlanta absolutely needs to find a way to win at least on game on the road in the TD Garden without their best player. Jeff Teague will need to continue scoring, Joe Johnson has to find a way to increase his offensive production even more and guys like Kirk Hinrich and Marvin Williams have to knock down their jumpers to keep Games 3 and 4 close. But if Josh Smith misses significant time, Atlanta might not win another game and go home empty-handed for yet another season.