|2009/2010 NBA Season|
|December 25th, 2009|
|Rajon Rondo||PG||Jameer Nelson|
|Ray Allen||SG||Vince Carter|
|Tony Allen||SF||Mickael Pietrus|
|Kevin Garnett||PF||Rashard Lewis|
|Kendrick Perkins||C||Dwight Howard|
|November 20th: Magic 83, Celtics 78|
The stage is set for a Christmas Day game to remember as the Orlando Magic will aim to defend their home court against the Boston Celtics. As usual, the combatants won't be at full strength, as All-Star small forward Paul Pierce will sit out for Boston. As Brian Schmitz noted in this morning's Orlando Sentinel, at least one key player has sat out in each of the last 11 meetings between these two teams. And since Celtics GM Danny Ainge added Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to the mix with Pierce to form a modern-day Big Three, the Celtics have played the Magic 15 times, counting last spring's playoff series. Only 3 times in those 15 games has both team have its three core players--for Orlando, that'd be Dwight Howard, Rashard Lewis, and Jameer Nelson--healthy. Unreal.
In the first meeting this season, Orlando held Boston to 34.5% shooting from the field, its worst shooting performance since March 2008, when the Dallas Mavericks held them to an identical percentage. The Magic's stifling defense compensated for their own lack of offense, as they shot 41.4% and committed 20 turnovers. Vince Carter scored 26 points, including two clutch jumpers, but missed 19 of his 29 shots. Dwight Howard managed only 4 shots attempts and 11 free throws due to the Celtics' excellent ball-denial strategy. In short, the game was an old-fashioned, smashmouth, defensive struggle, and Orlando managed to prevail.
Vince Carter's shooting struggles sure seemed to start with that 10-for-29 performance in Boston. In the 8 games prior to it, he posted an effective field goal percentage of 53.1, well above his career average of 48.6% prior to this season. Including that game against the Celtics, he's shot a horrendous eFG% of 42% since then. Puzzling.
Pierce's backup, Marquis Daniels, is also out with injury, leaving Boston coach Doc Rivers with only Tony Allen and Brian Scalabrine available at small forward. It's a matchup the Magic can exploit, especially if they play Carter there in a big lineup with J.J. Redick at shooting guard. That lineup, incidentally, is the one that's closed out games lately.
In his pre-game availability, Magic coach Stan Van Gundy--when he wasn't expressing his displeasure with having to play on Christmas, and saying "I feel sorry for people with nothing better to on Christmas Day than watch an NBA game"--explained that he didn't think the Celtics would change too much without Pierce, who's second among Celtics rotation players in usage at 22.1% (Rasheed Wallace, who ends 22.6% of Boston's possessions when he's on the floor, is first). He said Boston will likely feed Wallace and Garnett in the post, with point guard Rajon Rondo also getting into the lane with dribble penetration to set up the offense. He also said Ray Allen and reserve guard Eddie House "will be featured more coming off screens." It was Allen on whom he seemed to focus most in his pregame remarks, saying Allen "has pretty well proven over the course of his career that he can be a primary scorer."
The potential debut of power forward Glen Davis, who's missed the entire season with a broken hand, "doesn't change anything" in terms of his team's preparation. They know the Celtics well and they've been over every situation.
The game tips in just about an hour, and Rivers is set to address the media shortly, so I'm headed out to cover that. Merry Christmas, everyone.