PAUL PIERCE knocked down the free throws to clinch it, then dropped to a knee near midcourt.

He wasn't planning on Tebowing, but it just felt right.

"You just want to thank God for putting you in those positions," Pierce said. "It wasn't pre-scripted. It just came to me."

With a stunning performance, Pierce single-handedly led the Boston Celtics to a playoff win - even without their floor leader.

Pierce battled through another tough shooting night to score 36 points and the Celtics wiped out Atlanta's 11-point lead in the second half, stunning the Hawks, 87-80, on Tuesday in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference series.

Boston heads home for Game 3 on Friday night tied 1-1. Rajon Rondo will be back for the Celtics in that one, his team having claimed the homecourt edge even while he served a one-game suspension for bumping a ref.

Pierce made sure the point guard wasn't missed, outscoring the Hawks all by himself over the last 15:08.

"I have a lot of experience, a lot of confidence from being in those moments," Pierce said. "You believe in yourself, your coach believes in you, your team believes in you, it's a combination of all those things."

Pierce scored Boston's first nine points but struggled mightily through the second and third quarters. He came through when the Celtics really needed him, especially with the Rondo-less offense a bit out of sync and Ray Allen sitting out again with an injured right ankle.

Noteworthy * 

Amare Stoudemire had a small muscle in his left hand repaired and will not play for the New York Knicks in Game 3 of their first-round playoff series against Miami on Thursday. Stoudemire met with a hand specialist a day after he was badly cut when he punched the case surrounding a fire extinguisher after the Knicks' 104-94 loss in Miami. The Knicks are listing Stoudemire as doubtful for Game 4 on Sunday.

Stoudemire apologized on his Twitter account for the act, which leaves the Knicks without another key player as they try to rally from a 2-0 deficit. Jeremy Lin is still recovering from knee surgery and Iman Shumpert is out for the season after tearing a knee ligament in Game 1.

* San Antonio's Gregg Popovich was honored as the NBA's Coach of the Year after leading the Spurs to 50 wins.

* The Denver Nuggets say forward Wilson Chandler is expected to be ready by the start of training camp next season after undergoing surgery to repair a labral tear in his left hip.

* Houston Rockets point guard Kyle Lowry had surgery to repair a sports hernia.