WALTHAM, Mass. (AP) — When Rajon Rondo first saw his teammates again after Game 2 of their playoff series against Atlanta, he shook their hands and thanked them for pulling out a victory in his absence.
"He was very happy, thanking guys as we were getting on the bus," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said on Thursday before Boston's final practice for Game 3 of the first-round series against the Hawks. "I don't know if he would have done that two years ago. He would have been thankful, but he would have been in the back of the bus with his head down, down on himself. ... That's a step there."
The Celtics beat Atlanta 87-80 in Game 2 to tie the series at one game apiece, giving them a chance to take control in Games 3 and 4 in Boston on Friday and Sunday. And they did it without Rondo, who was suspended for Tuesday night's game for bumping the referee when a call went against him in the final minute of the series opener.
Rondo would not say where he watched the game, except to say it was close by. (Players are not allowed to be in the arena while serving a suspension.) Although Rivers said the point guard was waiting to shake their hands as they boarded the bus; Rondo said he gave Garnett a hug as he came out of the tunnel.
"(I) told him, 'Thank you.' I appreciate everything you guys have done for me," Rondo said before practice on Thursday. "Obviously, they won it for themselves. But they told me, 'We got this one for you.' That felt good. It felt like I was a part of it. It changed the series."
Paul Pierce scored 36 points and added 14 rebounds in Game 2 to make up for the absence of Rondo and Ray Allen, who hasn't played since April 10 because of bone spurs in his right ankle. Allen said Thursday he was going to try to practice, and Rivers said there is a chance he could play in Game 3.
"I think he has a better shot," Rivers said, adding that he would limit Allen in practice to avoid wasting his best moments on a workout. "I'd rather take 10 minutes of him on the floor than not."
The Hawks have injury problems of their own, with forward Josh Smith fighting a strained tendon in his left knee; he is considered day-to-day. Atlanta is already missing its top two centers, Al Horford and Zaza Pachulia.
Rondo emerged as a star in his second season, helping Boston win the 2008 NBA title, and since then he has been considered as important to the Celtics' fortunes as the New Big 3 of Pierce, Allen and Kevin Garnett. But he remains moody and erratic, so Rivers wasn't entirely surprised when Rondo chose to take out his frustrations on referee Marc Davis in the final minute of the Game 1 loss in Atlanta.