The Boston Celtics looked anything but exceptional in the first half of Friday night’s Game 3 against the Atlanta Hawks, but Rajon Rondo was able to find his rhythm in the second half as the hosting Celtics needed overtime to pick up a win in their first game at home in the Garden this postseason. It wasn’t pretty, for the most part, but Boston took the lead in Game 3 of the seven-game series with a 90-84 overtime victory in Rondo’s first game back from suspension.
Rondo finished the game with 17 points, 12 assists and 14 rebounds in his return after sitting Game 2 due to contact with an official in the waning minutes of the series’ opening game. The point guard’s players around him often looked overly-average for a game in the NBA Playoffs — and his six turnovers were a bit troubling — but Boston was able to win the battle thanks to the play of their heady point guard. It was a good for Boston considering they nearly gave it away after having an 11-point cushion late in the fourth quarter.
Rondo’s triple-double nicely complemented the rest of the “Big Four” as Ray Allen returned from injury off the bench to score 13 points and hit a dagger free-throw in overtime while Paul Pierce added 21 points (14-of-14 from the charity stripe). Kevin Garnett was excellent on the defensive end, almost overshadowing the 20 points and 15 rebounds he was able to contribute to the box score. The rest of Boston’s roster didn’t add a lot — Avery Bradley missed time in the second half with a shoulder injury — but it was enough to allow them to take the series lead at home.
The Hawks played very well in the first half, but the second half and overtime were a whole ‘nother story. Josh Smith was forced to the bench with a leg injury he suffered in Game 2 and, while it looked like Josh Smith and Tracy McGrady were going to pick up the slack following their first half performances, it apparently wasn’t meant to be. Johnson forced overtime with five points of his own late in the fourth quarter, but made just 11 of his 28 attempts from the field on his way to 29 points. McGrady was much more effective off the bench as he apparently entered a time machine for the first half, but an ankle injury seemed to take its toll on him as he finished with just two points in the second half.
While the turning point was probably Rondo picking up his play in the second half, it could also be due to the Hawks lack of any sort of presence from the forward positions. Jason Collins was ineffective after scoring his only four points in the first two minutes of the game and Erick Dampier — who got surprising playing time due to Collins’ foul trouble — certainly looked his age on both ends of the floor despite a solid six points and six rebounds.
This series is getting uglier by the game (only seven players scored in double figures on Friday night, despite the extra five minutes of overtime), but it seems that Boston has settled into being perfectly happy with picking up ugly wins and hopefully advancing. It seems that plan may work in this series, especially if injuries continue to be a problem, but that might not be the case as the NBA Playoffs roll on.