Calling what the Celtics  played without point guard Rajon Rondo  “offense” is being kind, but Paul Pierce  and a ridiculous defensive effort in the fourth quarter stole a Game 2 victory against the Hawks, 87-80.
Pierce finished with 36 points on 12-for-26 shooting to go along with 14 rebounds and four assists (and eight turnovers), and the defense held the Hawks to 14 points and 4-for-19 shooting in the final 12 minutes to even the series 1-1 entering Friday’s Game 3. All that was left for Pierce was to Tebow in victory .
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Captain, obvious: In the absence of Rondo, the Celtics needed Pierce to be heavily involved. And he was early. Pierce scored on a layup just six seconds ion the game, the first of his nine straight C’s points to open the game. Through the first 4:45, Pierce played the Hawks even, 9-9, establishing himself as the best player on the floor and setting an early tone for a Celtics offense desperately in need of a leader. He finished strong, too, scoring 13 fourth-quarter points.
Depth perception: Believe it or not, the Celtics built a lead with Ryan Hollins , Sasha Pavlovic  and Keyon Dooling  all on the floor. After the C’s battled the Hawks to a 24-24 deadlock through the first quarter, they started the second with that trio, Garnett and Bradley. Even Marquis Daniels  made an appearance. When Pierce returned to the floor three minutes into the second quarter, his team led, 28-27. It was just a one-point advantage, but the Celtics captain got some much-needed rest even when Doc Rivers  had limited resources.
Hanging tough: Through three quarters, the Celtics played perhaps their worst basketball after the All-Star break, shooting 21-for-54 from the field (38.9 FG%) and 2-for-11 from beyond the arc (18.2 3P%) while committing double-digit turnovers. They had no business being in the game, but somehow, even after defensive mental lapses that led to uncontested dunks and wide-open 3-pointers, the Celtics trailed just 66-61 entering the fourth quarter — thanks to the Hawks’ 39.1 percent shooting (25-64 FG).
WHAT WENT WRONG
Empty trey: After shooting 0-for-11 from 3-point range in Game 1, the Celtics started 0-for-7 through the first half of Game 2. Three quick first-half fouls on Mickael Pietrus  certainly didn’t help, while both Pierce and Pavlovic missed a pair of attempts in the first 24 minutes. Meanwhile, after connecting on seven triples in the series opener, the Hawks made another four in the opening two quarters to enter the break with a 44-41 halftime lead. Keyon Dooling finally broke the C’s trey-less streak on the team’s ninth attempt of the night, 5:25 into the third quarter. They finished 3-for-14.
The runs: Bradley and Brandon Bass  combined to score the first 10 points of the second quarter, and even the bench stepped up to help the Celtics establish a 34-29 lead with seven minutes remaining in the half. But three of Jeff Teague ‘s 12 first-half points ignited a 9-0 Hawks run that gave them a 38-34 lead. Teague (18 points) contented to dominate the middle portion of the game until the Celtics somehow found an answer in the fourth.
Josh being Josh: After totaling 22 points and 18 boards against them in Game 1, the Celtics needed the old Josh Smith to show up in the series. He did, missing a wide open windmill dunk  in the first quarter. Smith also clanged a corner 3-point attempt off the side of the backboard. Then Smith 2.0 showed up — until leaving the game with a reported left knee sprain  — finishing the game with 16 points, 12 rebounds and five assists.