Boston had not gone unbeaten against Atlanta since the 1985-86 season, when it won its 16th and most recent championship. Pierce dominated the Hawks this season, averaging 31.6 points and 8.6 rebounds in three games between the teams.
The Celtics shot just 37 percent (28-of-75) from the floor but committed just 11 turnovers while the Hawks had 22.
“We played solid tough-minded defense. That has to be our staple,” Boston coach Jim O’Brien said. “Really good defensive effort on our guys’ part. One of our goals or objectives of the game was to have a plus-8 turnover differential. We ended up with an 11-turnover differential.”
Atlanta was also held to 37 percent (29-of-78) shooting, including 0-of-5 from 3-pointer range, and made just 8-of-17 free throws in its scoring game of the season.
“I give a lot of credit to Boston. (Assistant coach) Dick Harter and Jim O’Brien do a great job with defense,” Atlanta coach Terry Stotts said. “They were everywhere, they were clogging up the lane.”
Rookie J.R. Bremer started in place of Tony Delk and scored 13 points for Boston, which also played without starting center Tony Battie. Delk is out with a sprained left ankle and Battie is sidelined with a sore right knee.
The Celtics, who led by as many as 10 points in the first quarter, were clinging to a 36-32 lead with 5:17 left in the first half before reeling off 11 straight points. Pierce had two layups and a pair of free throws during the spurt, which gave Boston a 47-32 cushion.
The Hawks never got closer than 10 points thereafter and the Celtics had their largest lead at 86-62 after a pair of free throws by Bremer with 3:58 remaining.
Boston, which returned to the FleetCenter after a four-game road trip, snapped a three-game slide and won for just the third time in 11 games.
“We have been struggling a lot and it is good to come home and get a win,” Pierce said. “Especially the way we did it, in convincing fashion, playing on all cylinders, really getting after it and turning it into a blow out.”
The Hawks played without leading scorer Glenn Robinson, who missed his fourth straight game with irritation in his right elbow.
“We’ve got one of the big three out and another one of the big three just out there not aggressive,” said guard Jason Terry, who scored just four points and was referring to himself. “On the offensive edge, we’re going to struggle.”
The scored was tied at 10-10 less just 4:10 into the game before the Celtics went on a 14-4 run to take the lead for good. Boston buried three 3-pointers and Eric Williams scored eight of his nine points during the stretch.
Abdur-Rahim scored 12 points in the first quarter as Atlanta pulled within 25-23 entering the second period.