BOSTON — The Atlanta Hawks seemed to have found the answer to their injury woes: a rejuvenated Tracy McGrady, who was putting together a playoff game reminiscent of his youth.
But then McGrady rolled his right ankle, crumpled to the ground and limped off the court. Although he returned in the second half, he did not make another basket and the Celtics held on to beat the depleted Hawks 90-84 in overtime Friday night to take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.
"Tracy played well for us prior to him turning his ankle," Hawks coach Larry Drew said. "We've been a team that has had adversity throughout the season, like everybody else, and it says a lot about your team when they can step up in the playoffs short-handed and still put themselves in a position to win the game. We certainly had our opportunity. We just fell short."
The Hawks were already without top centers Al Horford and Zaza Pachulia when forward Josh Smith went out late in Game 2 with a strained tendon in his left knee. Still, Atlanta seemed to cobble together an effective lineup, employing such little-used reserves as Erick Dampier and Jason Collins while giving more minutes to McGrady.
"I knew I would have to get some production from other players," Drew said. "I thought Erick Dampier came in and gave us some big minutes. He's a guy that hasn't been playing much at all for us. This is just a situation that I really needed another big body and he came in and gave us some really good minutes."
McGrady is a seven-time All-Star and two-time NBA scoring champion who averaged more than 20 points in eight straight seasons before injuries curtailed his production. He managed just 65 games total over two seasons before bouncing back with 72 last year and then 52 — all of them off the bench — in this lockout-shortened, 66-game season.
Before the series-opener against Boston, he hadn't appeared in the playoffs since 2008, scoring 40 for Houston in a first-round series against Utah. But he had 10 points and four rebounds in the second quarter alone before going up for a 3-pointer and coming down on Rajon Rondo's heel late in the half.
McGrady went to the floor, tried to get up then fell back down. He was helped off the court, but he returned for the second-half warmups and re-entered the game soon after.
"It's sore," he said after the game. "Rondo was closing out on me, he just happened to come right up under me and I landed on his foot. It was a little extended, but I'm going to get some treatment and I will be ready to go for Sunday."
McGrady had not played more than 30 minutes all season, but even with the injury he totaled 40:46, including overtime. He was 0-for-5 shooting in the second half and overtime, making just a pair of foul shots.
"He was playing big in that first half until he got hurt," Hawks forward Joe Johnson said. "In the second half, he just gutted out, he gave us what he had and that's all you can ask from him."
As the Hawks seem to be losing more and more players, the Celtics are getting theirs back.
Rondo came back after serving a one-game suspension for bumping a referee and had his seventh career playoff triple-double with 17 points, 14 rebounds and 12 assists. And Ray Allen returned for Game 3 on Friday night, his first appearance since April 10.
"Being back on the floor I felt alive," Allen said. "I felt like I was back in my own skin and it was a great feeling."
Allen received a standing ovation when he checked into the game in the first quarter, and he quickly made a short jumper. He finished with 13 points in 38 minutes, picking up more playing time after Avery Bradley injured his shoulder in the third quarter.
"Just having him out there really picked us up because we haven't seen Ray in a jersey in so long," Celtics forward Paul Pierce said. "Just having him out there, you heard the reaction from the crowd when he checked into the game. Stuff like that brings so much energy to the ball club, to have a guy that's so vital come out there and give us a big lift. It's huge having him out there, especially tonight with Avery going down."
Celtics coach Doc Rivers said Bradley has had the problem all year, but usually they are able to snap it back into place. Rivers gave his team the day off Saturday, even though it was their only chance to practice for Game 4 on Sunday night.
"They're exhausted. ... That's unusual for us in the playoffs to take a day off, but they need one," he said. "I was really worried going in the overtime, just looking at Paul, Kevin, and Rondo. They didn't look that fresh. And honestly I looked at the other team; they looked pretty bad, too. So that made me feel a little bit better."