Reverting to game plan paid off at end
ATLANTA - The Celtics had a simple game plan for their 87-80 win over the Hawks in Game 2 of their playoff series Tuesday night.
“That was the only way we were going to win the game - that is if Paul could be like that,’’ coach Doc Rivers said of Paul Pierce’s 36-point performance. “He knew that. So did they and yet he still did it. Just shows how special he is.’’
Without Rajon Rondo (suspended), the Celtics went with an Avery Bradley-Mickael Pietrus backcourt, the ballhandling burden placed on Pierce.
But the Celtics got away from their strategy until receiving a reminder from assistant coach Kevin Eastman.
“It was really designed to get the ball out of Avery’s hands so he didn’t have to make decisions,’’ Rivers said of the tactic. “The dumbest part of the game is we did that script like football and then we didn’t go back to it, not until the third and fourth quarter. At halftime Kevin reminded me that we should go back to the sets we were running. And so, we should have gone back to it earlier.’’
Pierce scored 13 points in the opening quarter, sinking a layup five seconds into the contest. In the second half, Pierce totaled 20 points and 9 rebounds in 24 minutes.
“No, I don’t think I was coming out,’’ Pierce said. “I thought Doc was going to sit me at the start of the fourth quarter. I would have probably told him to keep me in.’’
Rivers experimented with several combinations before settling on an effective lineup in the final quarter. The Celtics ended the first quarter with Bradley and Keyon Dooling in the backcourt, and a frontcourt of Kevin Garnett, Ryan Hollins, and Sasha Pavlovic. The bench contributed 4 points in an 83-74 loss in Game 1 but totaled 14 points in Game 2.
Pietrus committed three fouls in a 34-second span of the opening quarter. And, when Pietrus returned in the second half, he experienced a frustrating moment in a mixup with Brandon Bass that led to a Josh Smith layup and a 51-43 Hawks lead.
Pietrus, sitting next to the scorer’s table, became visibly upset during a timeout and had to be calmed down by Garnett.
“I sat him down, the bench calms everybody down,’’ Rivers said of Pietrus. “He’s an excitable guy. That’s what I like about Mickael, he’s passionate.
“I called a timeout because I was frustrated. You know, I gave it to a lot of guys and he was one of them. He was frustrated, which is fine.’’
When it came time to send Pietrus back into the contest, Rivers said, “I checked with [assistant coach] Armond Hill, is he ready? And Armond said give him another minute. And I put him back in. Sometimes when you get those early fouls it frustrates you.’’
Allen out again
On Monday, the Celtics were planning to have Ray Allen available for Game 2. But on Tuesday, Allen (right ankle) was unable to complete his pregame shooting drill and was held out of action for the 11th successive game.
“It’s frustrating, honestly,’’ Rivers said before the game. “It’s more frustrating for him than it is for us, let’s make that clear. It’s frustrating because he looked great yesterday - off the court, running, and shooting. And, so, we were almost positive - and then today he couldn’t walk much and he couldn’t even do his shooting before the game. So we’ll just keep seeing what we can do.’’
Pietrus failed to score in 20-plus minutes in the series opener and was shut out again in 19 minutes Tuesday.
“There’s that saying, you don’t know a guy until you coach him or play with him,’’ Rivers said of Pietrus, 0 for 5 in the two games. “He does far more things than I ever knew. He’s been great, just his spirit off the floor and in the locker room. There’s guys you want on your team and in your locker room and MP is clearly one you want in your locker room.’’
Rondo takes a seat
Rondo served a one-game suspension after being ejected for making contact with official Marc Davis in the final minute of Game 1.
“If you make contact they’re probably going to suspend you,’’ Rivers said. “Obviously, they thought about it - one [game] means they thought about zero, as well; or two, you can go either way. It’s over now, just move on.
“I wasn’t going to sit there and worry about it - it’s out of my hands, those are the things, I’d rather watch a movie. Those are the ones I just let go because you have no control over it. I was happy they did it quickly, I thought that was great. It was quick for what it usually is. Usually they wait until the day of. Historically, it’s been after shootaround - you get back to the hotel and you find out the guy’s not playing.
“That was one of the things the guys were complaining [about]. To me, the fact they did it - it was after practice - but at least it gave us time to prepare. We didn’t have him participate in shootaround yesterday.’’
Bradley was prepared
Bradley scored 14 points in the point guard role Tuesday.
“I feel like we’ll be prepared no matter what,’’ Bradley said Tuesday morning. “Our captains on the team, they had us prepared anyway. Even at shootaround we prepared ourselves. Even after the game Doc said [Rondo] could be suspended, so we’ll be prepared no matter what.
“You know we’ve been through a lot throughout this year - that comes from our leaders keeping everybody together. We have a lot of professionalism on our team. We know anybody could go down, be hurt, suspended, anything can happen. We just always have everybody prepared for when the time comes. We’ll be ready.’’
Regarding Rondo’s absence, Rivers said, “The single guy it affects the most is Brandon, by far. Because Rondo is the guy who makes all the passes on the picks and pops and all that and Brandon has struggled in the games Rondo hasn’t played in. We worked on stuff to try to get him shots because when he stretches the floor it’s huge for Kevin and we’re going to need someone on our team to make that pass.’’
Bass had 8 points in a 30:49 stint but was replaced by Marquis Daniels in the final quarter.
Now and then
Rivers compared this playoff matchup to the one in the 2008 playoffs between the Celtics and Hawks. “I think the biggest difference - they’ve been together. When you think about the 2008, that was the first time we were together in the playoffs, too, with that group. I don’t think either of us knew what to expect. I think both teams knew what to expect going into this one. You can make a case that that team has been together longer than our team with the collection of players, and that always gives you an advantage. Continuity is good.’’
Frank Dell’Apa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Bob Ryan of the Globe staff contributed to this report.