The Boston Celtics' stifling defense proved too much for the Orlando Magic to handle in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals, as Boston built a 16-point lead through three quarters before Orlando's rally came up just short at the end. The Celtics only points in the final 5:34 of the game came at the foul line, where Orlando intentionally sent them in an effort to prolong the game. That dry spell came with Orlando using a small lineup of J.J. Redick at shooting guard and Vince Carter at small forward, a pairing I expect we'll see more of as this series continues. Paul Pierce and Ray Allen scored 47 points on 74.7% True Shooting to sink Orlando, while Rasheed Wallace scored 13 off the bench, including two three-pointers to beat the shot clock. As solid as those three were on offense, Boston's defense won it the game. Dwight Howard shot 3-of-10 from the field for 13 points and committed 7 turnovers against Wallace, Kendrick Perkins, and Glen Davis. The single-coverage enabled the Celtics to stick with Orlando's perimeter shooters, which essentially shut its offense down. The Magic shot 5-of-22 from beyond the arc overall, and 0-of-9 in the first half. An aggressive Vince Carter led Orlando with 23 points in the first Conference Finals game of his career. His backcourt-mate, Jameer Nelson, scored 20 and added 9 rebounds, including a tip-in of an intentionally missed Carter foul shot late in the game to keep Orlando alive. But apart from those two, and Redick, the Magic could not get anything going.
|Team||Pace||Efficiency||eFG%||FT Rate||OReb%||TO Rate|
|Green denotes a stat better than the team's regular-season average;|
red denotes a stat worse than the team's regular-season average.
Orlando trailed, 41-32, at halftime due to an abysmal offensive showing. Nelson came out of the locker room with more aggression, and hit two three-pointers and a pull-up 2 off a pick-and-roll to bring Orlando to within 3 points--Allen had a layup somewhere in there--but it went south from there. The Magic couldn't get a stop, as Boston scored on each of its next 9 possessions following Nelson's second trey. Just over 5 minutes later, Boston held a 64-45 edge.
Credit the Celtics for executing a great game plan throughout. I do think we have to call the Magic's strategy into question here. Over the last 3 seasons, the Celtics have very well established that they can shut Howard down one-on-one; posting him up isn't a sound idea, yet Orlando kept pounding the ball inside to him. Going forward, the Magic have to get Howard involved as a pick-and-roll finisher, and he can help himself by creating opportunities on the offensive glass. Expecting him to score consistently and efficiently against Boston's bigs isn't realistic. It simply baffled me to watch the Magic consistently clear out for Howard.
Likewise, it's unrealistic to expect Rashard Lewis and Carter to miss all 7 of their treys, as they did today. Tom Haberstroh of HoopData pointed out that the pair combined for no three-pointers for just the fourth time this season today. Part of that is great defense, and I don't mean to take anything from Boston here. But those two won't shoot 0.000% from deep over the course of an entire series.
Not everything went wrong, though. Coach Stan Van Gundy's decision to pair Marcin Gortat with Howard at the power positions paid dividends, and helped the Magic win the rebounding battle, 45-38, after an early deficit. And Carter played as aggressively as he has in months; he pleasantly surprised anyone concerned that he'd loaf through this game and fire contested 19-footers the whole afternoon. If Van Gundy makes some simple adjustments, like using Howard away from the ball, and some of his players' open looks start dropping, the Magic will be in good shape. He's right when he says "[o]ur team doesn't have to prove that they can fight back from adversity and all that crap." It's about execution and making shots. This afternoon, Boston had the edge in both those areas.
Indeed, the Celtics played phenomenal defense, but Orlando's work on that side of the floor--giving up 92 points on 91 possessions--was good enough to win it the game on most nights. Again, the Magic need only make the proper offensive adjustments to get back into this series. The next game should be far more competitive.