– The Associated Press

WALTHAM, Mass. – 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 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 tonight and Sunday. And they won without Rondo, who was suspended for Tuesday night’s game for bumping a referee when a call went against the Celtics in the final minute of the series opener.

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. His status 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 Pierce, Allen and 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.

“I don’t think he did it selfishly. It just turned into a selfish act,” Rivers said. “I always think his intentions are right. But that doesn’t mean he does the right things all the time. I’d rather have a guy that had good intentions than guys that are just thinking about themselves.”

THURSDAY’S GAME

HEAT 87, KNICKS 70: LeBron James scored 32 points and visiting Miami took a 3-0 series lead, sending New York to an NBA postseason-record 13th straight loss.

James had 17 points in the final period for the Heat, who held the short-handed Knicks to eight field goals in the second half and will go for the sweep Sunday.

Dwyane Wade added 20 points for the Heat and Mario Chalmers had 19, hitting consecutive 3-pointers in the fourth quarter.

Carmelo Anthony scored 22 points on 7-of-23 shooting for the Knicks, who are playing without Amare Stoudemire, Jeremy Lin and Iman Shumpert.

The Knicks broke the record set by Memphis from 2004-06. They haven’t won a playoff game since April 29, 2001, Game 3 of a best-of-five series against Toronto.

TODAY’S GAMES

n Hawks at Celtics, 7:30 p.m. (CSN, ESPN2), tied 1-1

n Bulls at 76ers, 8 p.m. (ESPN), tied 1-1

n Lakers at Nuggets, 10:30 p.m. (ESPN), Lakers lead, 2-0