for this game

Pierce comes up big as Celtics regain momentum

May 1, 2008 - 4:55 AM By Tony Lee PA SportsTicker Contributing Writer

BOSTON (Ticker) - Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers said before Game Five on Wednesday night that Paul Pierce was going to play better. Just minutes later, Pierce began making a prophet out of Rivers.

Pierce had 22 points, seven rebounds and six assists to lead the Celtics to a critical 110-85 victory over the Atlanta Hawks and a 3-2 advantage in their best-of-seven Eastern Conference first-round series.

Kevin Garnett scored 20 points and Ray Allen added 19 for Boston, which had just one turnover in the first half and buried 9-of-20 3-pointers.

"We were better on both ends," Rivers said. "The offensive execution was as crisp and sound as it's been in two months and the defense was terrific."

Joe Johnson scored 21 points and Josh Smith added 18 for the Hawks, who head home for Game Six on Friday.

"We still got life, man, it ain't over yet," Johnson said. "We got to go home and take care of business, and that's that."

Following a solid - if not spectacular - first two games in Boston, Pierce struggled in consecutive losses in Atlanta. The All-Star forward made just 3-of-14 shots inside the arc and drew the ire of both Hawks' fans and the media for making a "menacing gesture" considered by some to be a gang symbol during Game Three.

Pierce was fined $25,000 for the act and forced to release a pregame statement Wednesday after a Boston reverend called him out in a newspaper article for promoting gang life.

"I don't want to take the focus away from the playoffs," Pierce said. "In sports, emotions run high. After playing for ten years in Boston, I think Celtics' fans know that I am a passionate player."

"I was very happy for Paul," Rivers said of Pierce and the controversy. "I'm just going to say, in this case, I really think he's as innocent as can be. It's amazing where this whole thing has gone.

"I was more concerned with Paul just being a player. I felt good about him coming into tonight, and I knew he was going to be aggressive."

All this was occuring while Pierce was trying to figure out a way to help the Celtics get back on track.

Rivers thought the answer would lie in Pierce's aggressiveness and urged his captain to step it up in that department. The message got across just fine.

Pierce had 10 points, four rebounds and three assists in the first quarter alone as the Celtics opened an eight-point advantage. Pierce also buried a jumper in the final seconds of the second to put Boston ahead, 58-43, at the break.

"Pierce got it started for them early," Smith said. "At the beginning of games lately, he hasn't been getting himself involved in the offense early on, and that's probably been the cause of him not doing well."

After closing the scoring before the break, Pierce opened it after intermission, floating a lefty runner in to make it a 17-point game.

However, that would be the Celtics' only basket in the first 5:53 of the half. The drought allowed Atlanta to crawl within 60-54 on a jumper by rookie Al Horford - the subject of Pierce's gesture four nights ago.

But Boston responded with a 21-10 run to regain control. Allen hit three of his four 3-pointers during the spurt.

"I think the last two games we had good looks, but tonight, we just made a concerted effort to get the ball in the post and kick it out to the perimeter," Allen said.

The Celtics scored the final six points of the quarter on a three-point play by Pierce and a 3-pointer by James Posey with one second left to carry an 81-64 advantage into the fourth.

The chippy play established early in the series continued throughout. Horford delivered a flagrant foul on Garnett late in the first half and Garnett and Johnson, the hero in Game Four, were whistled for technical fouls in the third.

Rivers said most of the pushing and jawing was a "joke" and did not mean much.

He may have been right again as - unlike in Games Three and Four - the rough stuff did nothing to help out the Hawks in the second half, and their deficit only grew in the fourth.

The Hawks shot just 41 percent (28-of-69) and have not won a road playoff game since 1997.

"We're not very disciplined on the road in running our offense, or getting into sets, or moving the basketball, and defensive principles, and that's what cost us," said Johnson, who exploded for 20 of his 35 points in the fourth quarter of Monday's 97-92 win in Atlanta. "That why we've lost on the road in the playoffs by like 20 points."

Atlanta coach Mike Woodson and Smith picked up technical fouls in the final minutes as the Hawks began to show their frustration.

"I won't say we lost our composure," Johnson said. "It's tough when it feels like things aren't going your way. Temper tantrums tend to fly, and that's part of it."

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