Rested were ready
Garnett and Pierce fueled Game 2 run
Doc Rivers took a calculated risk by giving Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce the night off when the Celtics played a game in Atlanta last month. The Celtics lost that game, and they wound up failing to gain home-court advantage in the first-round of the playoffs.
There is no way to measure the hoped-for payoff of Rivers’s move - conservation of energy for the starters, experience for the reserves - but as the Celtics prepare for Games 3 and 4 against the Hawks at home, the coach’s gambit appears to be justified.
With an 87-80 win over the Hawks in Atlanta Tuesday, the Celtics tied the first-round series at one game apiece, and they would be home for three of the next four games. And they will have Rajon Rondo for Game 3 Friday night as he returns from a one-game suspension.
Maybe that recuperation time contributed to Garnett and Pierce being fresh enough to carry the Celtics in the second half of Tuesday’s game. Perhaps Rivers’s expressed hope that the experience would “help one guy’’ among the second unit paid off.
Marquis Daniels, Keyon Dooling, and Ryan Hollins all played more than 30 minutes - season highs - in that regular-season game, a 97-92 loss April 20. And all three made significant contributions to the Celtics’ win in Game 2 Tuesday.
Dooling seems to have found the range on the perimeter at Philips Arena; he converted two key 3-pointers in the third quarter Tuesday and he was 3 for 4 on threes in the April 20 game.
“You can pick out so many different little things that every single guy did, and that’s how you grind out wins,’’ said Rivers. “This team has done it all year. We’ve won games without Rondo, without Paul.
“It’s just been a tough-minded basketball team. I do think having the veterans like Keyon, Marquis, and Sasha [Pavlovic] allows for that.”
Rivers’s math was slightly off, though. The Celtics won only once in the five games Pierce missed during the season. And Pierce almost single-handedly carried the Celtics offensively in Game 2, going for 36 points and 14 rebounds.
With the Celtics trailing the Hawks, 68-66, Garnett and Pierce scored 15 of the next 17 Boston points. Some of that impetus might have come from energy credits accumulated last month. Some was the result of Mickael Pietrus and second-unit types giving Pierce a break by defending Joe Johnson.
“I thought we really defended from the start and I thought that was going to be the key,’’ Pierce said. “Overall, it was the defense. You hold a team to 80 points, you give yourself a good chance to win, regardless of how your offense plays.
“We’re a grind-it-out team. We’re a defensive, grind-it-out team. That’s how we’ve been all year.’’
The Celtics presented almost no threat from the 3-point line in the opening two games, going 3 for 25. They were 0 for 19 before Dooling converted with 6:36 remaining in the third quarter of Game 2. Pierce is 1 for 11 on 3-pointers. Without Ray Allen (ankle), the Celtics were counting on Pietrus to contribute from the perimeter, but he is 0 for 5 on 3-pointers . . . Garnett finished fifth in the voting for Defensive Player of the Year, which went to Knicks center Tyson Chandler . . . The Celtics took 79-76 and 88-86 overtime wins during the regular season when Zaza Pachulia started at center for the Hawks. “Every game we’ve played with them this year has been awfully close,’’ Pierce said. “So we will just have to take things one game at a time when we get back home.’’
Frank Dell’Apa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.