Paul Pierce scored 24 points in 18 minutes and the Boston Celtics opened a 37-point third-quarter lead before cruising to a 101-79 victory over the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday night to take a 3-1 lead in their first round playoff series.

Rajon Rondo had 20 points and 16 assists as the Celtics got some much-needed rest for their aging and injured roster.

Josh Smith returned after missing Friday's game and had 15 points and 13 rebounds for Atlanta. Al Horford, who played for the first time in almost four months, scored 12 points.

Pierce limped off the court favoring his left knee midway through the second quarter, but he returned for the start of the third period. He was on the court as Boston scored 16 of the first 18 points in the second half to open an 80-43 lead with 8:13 left in the third quarter.

That was enough to earn Pierce, who played 47 minutes on Friday, some much-needed rest. Avery Bradley, who dislocated his shoulder in Game 3, played just 19 minutes Sunday and Ray Allen, who played 37 minutes Friday in his first game in more than three weeks, sat down after scoring 12 points and pulling down five rebounds in 19 minutes of action.

The Hawks weren't able to get any closer than 22 points before Rondo and Allen hit back-to-back 3-pointers, as Boston closed out the third quarter with a 90-63 lead.

Atlanta did cut it to 20 points in garbage time before Keyon Dooling made a 3-pointer with only under two minutes to left.

The Celtics can finish the series in Atlanta on Tuesday. Game 6 would be in Boston on Thursday, if necessary.

(Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)