The only question for the Celtics  after a 101-79 blowout of the Hawks that gave them a 3-1 Eastern Conference quarterfinals lead was whose virtuoso performance was more impressive: The captain’s or the general’s?
Paul Pierce  threw the haymakers, scoring 24 points on 10-of-13 shooting (4-6 3P) in only 16-plus minutes, and Rajon Rondo  jabbed away, amassing 20 points and 16 assists against just one turnover. Kevin Garnett  (13 points), Ray Allen  (12 points), Brandon Bass  (10 points) and Keyon Dooling  (10 points) also reached double figures, as the Celtics shot 51 percent from the field.
The C’s led by as many as 37 points and put themselves one game away from a fifth consecutive berth in the conference semifinals. The 76ers also took a 3-1 lead on the depleted Bulls team, setting up the possibility the Celtics could host the next round.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Early to rise: After slow starts (and finishes) in Games 1-3, the Celtics came prepared to Sunday’s Game 4 in the Garden. They made six of their eight shots in the opening 4:04, and Rondo orchestrated the offense beautifully. He assisted on five of the six field goals — including a Garnett dunk that forced Hawks coach Larry Drew to call a timeout four minutes into the game. By then, Garnett, Pierce and Avery Bradley  each had two field goals, and the C’s were rolling.
Painting a masterpiece: Celtics coach Doc Rivers  wants more paint production out of Garnett , even after his starting center’s 20-point, 13-board effort in Game 3. Rivers felt if Rondo could get Garnett the ball deeper toward the basket, the Celtics could be a more effective offensive unit. Done and done. KG’s first three buckets came within six feet, and he scored nine first-half points. As a team, the C’s shot 28-of-44 (63.6 FG%) and scored 64 points (22 in the paint) in the opening 24 minutes, and establishing Garnett early set the tone.
Headband of brothers: When Rondo and Pierce both play well at the same time, the Celtics can play with anybody, and, as Garnett might say, the Hawks were a bunch of nobodies on Sunday night. Rondo had 13 assists by halftime, or four more than the Hawks as a team. Heck, even jump shots and 3-pointers were falling for the C’s floor general. Meanwhile, Pierce made 8-of-11 first-half attempts for 18 points by the break. Whether it was the headbands or not, it’s no wonder the Celtics enjoyed their most complete performance of the series (and the season, for that matter).
Bench production: The Celtics built a 13-point lead in the first quarter, and the second-quarter starting lineup of Garnett, Mickael Pietrus , Keyon Dooling, Marquis Daniels  and Greg Stiemsma  didn’t squander it. When Pierce, Rondo and Bass returned almost four minutes into the second quarter, the C’s still owned that 13-point advantage, and the rested starters closed out the half on a 25-15 run. In all, the Celtics bench scored 28 points, led by Allen’s 12 in 19 minutes. The reserves also closed out the fourth quarter, allowing Rivers to rest the stars he’s relied so heavily upon in the first three games of the series.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Knee-jerk reaction: Midway through the second quarter, Pierce dropped to the parquet, clutching his left knee in pain. He and Josh Smith got tangled, and Pierce collapsed. It didn’t look good. Never fear. As is his calling card, Pierce returned in dramatic fashion. After participating in the halftime shootaround with his teammates, Pierce made a pair of 3-pointers early in the third quarter during a run that put the Celtics up by as many as 37 points (80-43). Rivers soon removed the Celtics captain, and the only action he saw for the rest of the night came on a courtside stationary bike.
Al be sure: After sitting out Atlanta’s final 55 regular-season games with a torn pectoral muscle, Hawks center Al Horford returned to the lineup, coming off the bench to score 12 points in his first appearance since Jan. 11. He shook off some early rust and threw down a pair of first-half dunks, which would seem difficult if the muscle tear still bothered him. Horford even started the second half, a positive sign for a team that’s been riddled with frontcourt injuries this series. Although, it’s hard to imagine the Hawks celebrating his return too much on the plane ride back to Atlanta for Game 5 on Tuesday.