Originally posted on Pro Sports Daily  |  Last updated 5/6/12

BOSTON -- Paul Pierce ignited Boston's sizzling shooting start, scoring 24 points in just 16 1/2 minutes of action to carry the Celtics to a 101-79 victory over the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday, giving Boston a 3-1 edge in the playoff series.

Rajon Rondo added 20 points and 16 assists, and Kevin Garnett scored 13 points for the Celtics.

Boston can wrap up the best-of-seven series with a win in Atlanta on Tuesday night.

Atlanta forward Josh Smith, who missed Game 3 with a sprained left knee suffered in Game 2, returned to the starting lineup. He was mostly ineffective, but led the Hawks by scoring 15 points and 5-of-13 shooting.

Boston shot 67 percent in the opening half and led 64-41 at the break.

The Celtics did have a scare, though, when Pierce left the floor after grabbing his left knee late in the second quarter.

But he came back to start the second half and picked up where he left off, nailing a 3-pointer from the top, giving Boston a 72-41 lead 1:45 into the second half.

That wasn't it. He electrified the crowd by hitting another 3 from the top, pushing the Celtics' lead to 77-43 with just over 9 minutes left in the quarter.

By the time he went back to the bench -- or, actually to the exercise bike off to the side to stay loose -- Pierce was 10-for-13 from the floor, including 4-of-6 from beyond the 3-point line.

As far as a challenge on the floor, the Hawks offered very little.

The hardest thing they did was a Flagrant 1 foul by Jeff Teague, who knocked Avery Bradley to the floor on an attempted fastbreak layup.

Boston cruised behind the play of its captain, Pierce, who put up one his better performances to help the Celtics win Game 2, scoring 36 and grabbing 14 boards with Rondo suspended for bumping referee Marc Davis in the first game.

On Sunday, it was his dazzling accuracy that led the way.

Boston led 90-63 after three quarters and rested its starters for most of the final quarter.

The Celtics came out red hot in the first quarter, and it didn't stop there.

Boston jumped to its first double-digit lead (25-15) on Pierce's fade-away jumper 9 minutes into the quarter en route to a 32-19 edge after one. The Celtics hit 67 percent of their shots in the opening quarter (14 of 21), forced eight turnovers and held the Hawks to 44 percent from the floor.

In the second quarter, Pierce, who was 8 for 11 from the floor in the first half, sandwiched a pair of 3s around baskets by Brandon Bass to move Boston ahead 51-27 with 6:12 left in the half.

But a few seconds later, Pierce collided with someone in a defensive switch, appeared to bang knees, went to the floor grabbing his left knee in pain and went to the locker room for the rest of the half.

Notes: Boston G Bradley was back in the starting lineup after leaving Game 3 late with a shoulder injury. ... Ray Allen, who returned for Game 3 after not playing since April 10 due to bone spurs in his right ankle, was back in action. He said he was very sore on Saturday, but felt better Sunday morning. "I had to walk sideways," he said. "I just felt tough and achy yesterday. I couldn't do anything. It was throbbing. I got in and got treatment. Just all day I felt like I was holding my leg wrong. But I woke up this morning and was back where I wanted to be." ... In a surprise move, the Hawks activated C Al Horford, who played in only 11 regular season games due to a torn pectoral muscle.

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