BOSTON For most of Boston's 90-84 overtime win in Game 3 against Atlanta, the Celtics did a good job of managing the clock.
But as their lead peaked at 11 points with just under seven minutes to play, the C's offense slowed down considerably as they appeared to be more focused on killing time off the clock than killing any hopes of an Atlanta comeback.
The Hawks managed to close out the fourth quarter with an 8-0 run that ultimately forced overtime.
"We got into the habit of milking the clock," Rivers said. "And you just can't do that. You can do that when the other team has two bigs. But when the other team has five guards on the floor, you absolutely can't do that. And we did that."
Consider it another lesson learned for the Celtics, who did a much better job of managing the clock in overtime.
"We got what we wanted (in overtime)," Rivers said.
The offense ran more smoothly, the defense was solid as ever and most important, the Celtics came away with a win that gives them a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series with Game 4 on Sunday.
Boston's ability to better manage the game in the fourth quarter was yet another example of how the C's can adjust on the fly, which proved to be a key factor in Friday's win. Here are some other keys identified earlier, and how they actually played out as the Celtics continue their postseason mastery of the Hawks as the C's improved their record in the playoffs at home against the Hawks, to 23-2 since 1960.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: All eyes will be on Rajon Rondo, with many wondering how he will handle himself after being suspended in Game 2. This will be the fourth time Rondo has returned after missing time, whether it was injury-related or because of a suspension. In those three previous games, Rondo has returned to the floor doing essentially what he does most of the time - pass the ball. In those three games, he's averaging 11 assists which is just 0.7 assists fewer than his NBA-leading 11.7 assists per game average this season. "I'm a pass-first point guard," Rondo said. "It's not like I try to go out there and dominate the ball as far as shots. I try to keep my teammates happy, and get a win."
WHAT WE SAW: It seemed as the game went on, Rajon Rondo's play steadily improved. He finished with his seventh playoff triple-double, tallying 17 points, 12 assists and 14 rebounds. "He is certainly proven to be one of the better point guards in this league," said Hawks coach Larry Drew. Certainly he's a handful."
MATCHUP TO WATCH: Paul Pierce vs. Joe Johnson: Pierce is coming off a monster 36-point, 14-rebound night in Game 2, the kind of performance that few expect the Captain to replicate. Of greater concern for Boston has to be the 44 minutes Pierce played, and whether a couple days off will be enough rest for him to bounce back and pick up where he left off. As for Johnson, look for him to be more assertive offensively regardless of whether Josh Smith (left knee) plays. A six-time all-star, Johnson has averaged 16.5 points and five assists in the first two games, while shooting just 31.3 percent from the field and 17.6 percent on 3s.
WHAT WE SAW: Although Johnson had more points (29 to 21 for Pierce), you have to give the nod to Pierce on this one. Yes, he was just 3-for-12 shooting which is a horrible shooting night for any paler. But Pierce also went to the free throw line 14 times and made all of his attempts. Meanwhile, Johnson's game-high 29 points came on 11-for-28 shooting which speaks to him having a not-so-efficient night as a scorer.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Jeff Teague has really emerged as a postseason terror for opponents. After two games, Teague has established himself as the best guard on the floor. His quickness off the dribble seems to have caught the Celtics off-guard in the first two games. However, the Celtics - Avery Bradley mainly - have figured out how to limit him down the stretch in both games. Figuring out how to keep Teague under control at the start of games, would go far in Boston pulling out a Game 3 win.
WHAT WE SAW: Joe Johnson may be their lone all-star that's healthy, but the Hawks made a major gaffe in trying to run their offense down the stretch through Johnson instead of letting Teague be the primary attacker. The Celtics have had problems defending him in all three games. And with Avery Bradley out for the entire fourth quarter, the Hawks would have been wise to make Teague - not Johnson - the focal point of their offense. He finished with 23 points on 9-for-16 shooting from the field along with six assists, four rebounds, a steal and two blocked shots.
STAT TO TRACK: Bench play is always important, especially in this series. The Hawks won Game 1 in part because they outscored the Celtics' second unit, 17-2. In Boston's Game 2 win, the C's second unit had 14 points which equaled the output of the Hawks' reserves. Being able to hold their own offensively with Atlanta's backups will again be key in tonight's Game 3 matchup.
WHAT WE SAW: Bench play was indeed a factor, especially for the Celtics. The return of Ray Allen to the second unit did in fact provide a much-needed offensive lift for the Celtics. He had 13 of the Celtics' 19 bench points. As for the Hawks, Tracy McGrady had a big game off the bench with 12 points, 10 of which came before he suffered an ankle sprain that sidelined him temporarily.