The Celtics bring their series back to Boston from Atlanta tied at one game apiece. After falling to the Hawks in game one, with Rajon Rondo's temper costing him an appearance in game two, the Celtics leveled the playing field thanks to a massive game from Paul Pierce.
It was a performance which Celtics fans should have seen coming.
Pierce struggled in game one and the team needed an inspirational figurehead without their point guard. Pierce has always been a leader throughout his career which will ultimately land him in the hall-of-fame and he has always had a knack of coming up big when required.
Rarely has Pierce had two bad games in a row in the playoffs. He followed his first appearance, a bad one, in the playoffs this year with one of his best ever. Pierce played 44 minutes in Atlanta finishing with 36 points, 14 rebounds and four assists. While he did have eight turnovers, Pierce's 13 free throw attempts is a major positive for a team which has really struggled to get to the line this year.
Without Rondo, or Ray Allen, the Celtics' back-court partnership of Avery Bradley and Mikael Pietrus essentially deferred the game to Pierce on the offensive side of the ball. During the final quarter, the Celtics didn't even subtly let Pierce take over as they looked to get the ball in his hands then move out of the way.
This isn't a winning formula going forward but it was enough to keep the Celtics in touch for the moment.
If they are to advance past the Hawks, and anyone else after that, the Celtics need for Ray Allen to return to health and for Rajon Rondo to sort out his frustrations. The reality is Rondo will continue to express himself, as that has always been his character, but so long as he can avoid bumping referees or anything else that will lead to a suspension, he should be fine.
Allen is another issue.
Despite being moved to the sixth man for the Celtics, you would not say that Allen has been demoted. At least, he certainly hasn't seen it that way. Allen has remained a pivotal part of the team's chances of success.
Without Allen the Celtics had 14 bench points in game two and four in game one. While that is enough to stay competitive with the Atlanta Hawks, it won't be anywhere near enough to compete long-term in the playoffs.
With Allen running the second unit, and Pierce leading the starters, the Celtics have two legitimate scoring threats who can take over games on the offensive side of the ball. With Kevin Garnett marshaling a strong overall defensive group, the Celtics do have the chance to make some noise in a depleted Eastern conference.
The Celtics focus right now is on overcoming the Atlanta Hawks. They can win this series without Ray Allen so long as Rondo returns, but they need both of them to be at their best if they are to have any chance at all of competing with the Miami Heat and somehow make it to the NBA Finals.