BOSTON -- The Celtics won Game 2 in Atlanta without the suspended Rajon Rondo.
It's safe to say they wouldn't have won Game 3 without their returning point guard.
Rondo was on fire in the fourth quarter and the overtime Friday night as the Celtics, who blew a late eight-point lead, pulled out a 90-84 victory to take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven first round series.
Game 4 is Sunday night in Boston.
Rondo, who finished with his seventh playoff triple-double (his 20th overall, seven this season), personally led an 11-1 fourth-quarter run that broke the game open for the Celtics. But the shorthanded Hawks, playing without injured big men Josh Smith, Al Horford and Zaza Pachula, finished regulation on an 8-0 run and forced overtime.
Rondo scored the first four points of the OT, putting his team ahead to stay with 3:50 left.
"Certainly he's a handful," said Hawks coach Larry Drew. "He's a guy that is the head of the snake. When he's playing that well, they're tough to beat. We had an opportunity even as well as he played."
Rondo, suspended for making contract with a referee, was just 7-for-22 from the floor, but finished with 17 points, 14 rebounds and 12 assists. He had two points, four rebounds, five turnovers and five assists in the first half.
"Just a matter of timing," Rondo said. "A lot of turnovers in the first half, I missed a couple of shots (0-for-3), but my teammates believed in me and told me to keep going.
"That's what I tried to do for the team, just hang in there and (we) got the win."
Asked about his point guard early, Celtics coach Doc Rivers said, "I just thought he got, and (it happens to) a point guard, they get mixed up sometimes, running the stuff. Sometimes for them that means not being aggressive. And it's funny, we had an exchange in the third or fourth quarter; I said, 'Hey, you got to be aggressive,' and he said, 'well, I thought you wanted me to run the stuff.'
"And I said, 'Yeah. And be aggressive. You have to do both at the same time.' And then finally I told him, 'Just be a scorer. Just attack.' And I thought that freed him up a little bit."
Ray Allen, returning from an 11-game absence caused by bone spurs in his left ankle but feeling much better in the last two days, came off the bench and played almost 37 minutes, which surprised almost everyone. He scored 13 points and grabbed six rebounds after being greeted with a standing ovation when he entered the game in the first quarter.
Paul Pierce, just 3-for-12 from the floor, went 14-for-14 from the foul line and had 21 points for the Celtics, who also got 20 points, 13 rebounds and four blocked shots from Kevin Garnett.
A valiant Joe Johnson led the Hawks with 29 points (11-for-28 from the floor, but the last five points of regulation) while Jeff Teague had 23 points and six assists. Tracy McGrady had 12 points and nine rebounds, with 10 points and six rebounds off the bench in the first half before he turned an ankle. He returned for the second half but wasn't the same.
The Celtics lost Avery Bradley to a shoulder injury in the second half, but Rondo, Allen and Mikael Pietrus helped handled an Atlanta offense that went small with five guards at times.
"Shoulder went out," Rivers said of Bradley. "And he's had that problem all year. Usually they're able to, like a leg, they'll snap it back in. It wouldn't go back in. So we'll find out more tomorrow."
NOTES: Earlier in the day, Smith, talking about his chances of playing, said, "I'm not going to rush myself into anything that I'm not comfortable with. If I'm able to go tonight I'll lace them up." It was the first game Smith, who averaged 18.8 points and 9.6 assists per game in the regular season and 19 and 15 in the first two playoff games, missed this season. ... Veteran center Erick Dampier, once a viable big man in the league, made his playoff debut for the Hawks. The 36-year-old scored only two points in 15 games (83 minutes) during the regular season but had six points and six rebounds in 22-plus minutes. ... Atlanta guard Kirk Hinrich played only 10 minutes in the second half and didn't score in 26:19 overall, but Drew said there was no physical problem for the guard, that he just decided to go with Willie Green, who hit a huge 3-pointer to trigger the late 8-0 regulation run. ... The Celtics are 32-11 at home in the playoffs under Rivers. ... Bruins president Cam Neely received a standing ovation when introduced to the crowd on the video screen; after a "Bad To The Bone" video of Neely as a player inspired the crowd.