To think Doc Rivers  thought he might not even have his captain available after a fluke injury in the shootaround hours before Game 4.
Paul Pierce  shook off a freakish knee injury in shootaround and a re-aggravation of it during the second quarter to finish with 24 points in just over 16 minutes and give the Celtics  the kind of breathing room they needed in a 101-79 rout of the Hawks in Game 4, in contest not even that close.
Pierce established himself early and often. It was what Celtics fans have come to expect and appreciate about the team in the “Big 3″ plus Rondo era. He was 5-of-7 in the the first quarter with 10 points. Rajon Rondo  had seven assists, including helpers on Pierce’s first two buckets as the Celtics raced out ahead, 32-19, after one quarter.
‘It was great,” Rivers said. “And you know I thought, Paul thought, in the last game he took it too deep, and so tonight he went to the in-between game over and over again early on. First play we got him a layup and then he got a lot of in-between jump shots, which I think he may be one of the best in-between players in the league. And he did that. He knew that they were trapping; he knew that they were coming at him. And we talked, ‘If you go quick, one, two, dribble, pull-up jump shot, you know, take it.’ And he did that. And then he got the three going. He was just on fire.’
That fire nearly blew up in the Celtics’ face when leading 51-27 on a Pierce three, Pierce ran into Josh Smith on a screen. He twisted his knee, aggravating the injury from hours earlier in the team’s shootaround. Pierce said he’s hoping to be ready for Game 5 on Tuesday in Atlanta.
“I kind of sprained it [Sunday] morning and then I aggravated it in the game,” said Pierce, who led the Celtics with 24 points in just over 16 minutes of game time. “I’m glad we were able to get a win like this to give me some rest, give me a couple of days off and get some treatment, and hope it feels good on Tuesday.”
Realizing fans would be concerned about his status for Game 5 on Tuesday in Atlanta, Pierce tweeted after the game, I think the knee is going to be fine glad I didn’t have to play a lot of minutes tonight to rest it good win tonight fellas.
Pierce was red-hot before and after running into Josh Smith on a screen late in the second quarter. He made 10 of his 13 shots in the win.
‘I kind of tripped over someone’s foot,” Pierce said. “I had to sit around the last half of shootaround, and tonight I just kind of reaggravated it when I came up off the screen with Josh Smith right there. It’s a little bit sore right now so Doc [Rivers] just wanted to take precautions tonight especially when we had such a big lead.”
Rivers couldn’t believe it when it happened in the morning.
“When I left shoot-around, I probably thought he was not going to play,” Rivers said, before being reassured by trainer Ed Lacerte. “And Eddie said, ‘Let’s see, let’s give it a try, and see how he feels.’ I talked to him right before the game; I asked him ‘What do you think?’ And he said, ‘Well let me just try to warm it up and see how I feel.’ It’s amazing. I mean, honestly, guys around the league ‘ He was just dribbling the ball and went to the floor in shoot-around. And I was thinking, ‘What more can you –?’ We were walking. You know, that’s how you felt, like, my gosh. And honestly, when he went down, it didn’t look good. So the fact that he could come in and play, and then play the way he played was great.’
Pierce missed the final 5:45 of the first half but came out to warmup for the second half and assured Rivers he was good to start the second half. He hit his first two shots, both threes, and had 24 points in 16 minutes on 10-of-13 shooting. He came out for Mickael Pietrus  with 8:24 left in the third quarter and did not return. He didn’t need to. He was free to get more treatment and try and make sure – at all costs – that he’s ready to go for Tuesday night in Atlanta.
“I got some rest for the next game,” Pierce said. “You don’t want to really sit down or let it get stiff. That’s why I went over and got on the bike there when I got out of the game. If it had stiffened up on me I probably wouldn’t have had a chance to come back. It’s sore, tender. I’m just going to ice it.”