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Bob Ryan

Right from start, Celtics could do no wrong

Doc Rivers should have it put on his tombstone:

“I told you guys. It’s a make-miss league.’’ He has probably said it 500 times since he’s been here.

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Or put it this way. You make 33 of your first 49 shots, there’s a pretty good chance you’re going to win the game. That’s what the Celtics did at TD Garden Sunday night, and that’s why the Celtics pounded the Hawks by a not-as-close-as-it-sounds 101-79 score to take a 3-1 series lead.

Of course, Doc’s also a coach who has hung his professional hat on defense, so it wasn’t all that surprising to have him give the D a preponderance of the credit for this convincing win.

“Our defense really got us going,’’ he said. “They had eight turnovers in the first quarter. We had 24 deflections by halftime. If we have that number for the whole game, we’re happy.’’

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The defense was great. No, wait. It was sensational, scintillating, stifling, and suffocating. If you want to throw in stingy, no one’s going to argue with that.

But great D still can be neutered by bricklaying at the other end. The object of the game remains to put the ball through that orange ring with more regularity than the other guys. Nobody wins any sport, 0-0 (well, perhaps World Cup soccer). Somebody’s got to score.

Forget the fourth quarter, which was a ridiculously useless exercise won by the Hawks, 16-11. The fact is this game contained more than 20 minutes of good old-fashioned garbage time. The actual basketball game was over when an Avery Bradley free throw capped a 16-2 run to give the Celtics an 80-43 lead fewer than four minutes into period three. At this blissful juncture the Celtics were shooting that aforementioned 33 for 49 from the floor (67 percent), having followed up a 28-for-44 first half by making their first five shots of the third quarter.

The primary assassin was a familiar one. Paul Pierce, who according to Rivers was a doubtful participant after doing something to his knee during the morning shootaround, was in one of those ultra-sick modes, finishing with 24 points in 16:37 of playing time while shooting 10 for 13 from the floor, only one of which was a layup. File this under the category: “Wake me when there’s new news.’’

Well, here’s some news: Rajon Rondo’s 20-point, 16-assist contribution included 8-for-11 shooting, and further included 2 for 3 on threes. Rajon Rondo was raining Js, how about that?

But we must take a 20-second timeout for discussion of one third quarter Rondo maneuver, a shot so spectacular it actually rated a rare attempt for a colorful description on the official running sheet (“Rondo 2 Driving Finger Roll Layup’’).

Good try, that, but not even close. For what Rondo did was take it to the hoop, put the ball behind his back, bring it out - to this point something he’s done a hundred times, easy - and then make a righthanded, backhanded layup from the left side of the rim. This is not something that should be tried at home, at least not without adult supervision.

But that’s why he’s Rajon Rondo.

By the way, guess who got all this started? Avery Bradley, that’s who. If there are any doubts that he is determined to assert himself offensively, they were erased when he shot the ball four times in succession, all jumpers, the last two of which were a deep two and a three, broke the game’s last tie at 6-6, and propelled the Celtics to a 32-19 first-quarter lead. The closest it was after that was 4 (13-9), and the closest it was in the final 32 minutes was 17 (44-27).

I mean, they were all making shots. Ray Allen bounded off the bench to go 4 for 6 in the first half. Keyon Dooling banged home a couple of quick threes. Kevin Garnett hit a buzzer-beater. I told you about Rondo.

And then there was the Captain.

“Paul, I thought, took it too deep in the last game,’’ Rivers analyzed. “So tonight he went to the in-between [i.e. midrange] game over and over early on. First play, we got him a layup, and then he got a lot of in-between jump shots, which I think he may be one of the best in-between jump shooters in the league.

“And we talked, ‘If you go quick, one, two, dribble, pull-up jump shot, you know take it.’ ’’

He also hit another couple of in-between shots, except that these were in-between the foul line and downtown Saugus. In transition. I think you can picture it.

Doc pronounced this overall team performance as “obviously, the best we’ve played so far in the playoffs,’’ and he wasn’t going to be contradicted by Atlanta coach Larry Drew, who lauded the Celtics’ tempo.

“At the start of the series, we thought we would be able to flourish [at a fast tempo],’’ he said. “But they are dictating the pace of the game. It seems like they are doing it to us.’’

The reality is that had the Celtics actually decided to play in the first 5 1/2 minutes of Game 1, rather than sleepwalking themselves into a 20-6 hole, they’d have this thing over and done with. Now they have to make sure they don’t get careless with this 3-1 lead.

“They are NBA players, so there is a chance we could lose Game 5,’’ said Rondo. “But it is not in our mind . . . If we do play the right way, like we did tonight, I think we have a great chance of winning the game.’’

A word of caution: Plan on D-ing up, hitting the glass, getting back in transition, and all that stuff, because you’re NOT making 33 of your first 49 shots again. It’s the NBA. They might be doing the making and you might be doing the missing.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist and host of Globe 10.0 on Boston.com. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.
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