The Boston Celtics finished the Orlando Magic's season tonight, commanding the game from the opening tip and winning Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals comfortably, 96-84. Paul Pierce led 5 Celtics in double-figures with 31 points, and also snared a game-high 13 boards, dished 5 assists, and grabbed 2 steals in a monstrous performance. He and Ray Allen combined to sink 7 of Boston's 10 three-pointers, in 22 attempts, with Allen's two threes to open the second half giving the Celtics an imposing 19-point lead. Dwight Howard led Orlando with 28 points and 12 rebounds, while Vince Carter scored 13 of his 17 points in the second quarter to keep Orlando fairly close. But the rest of the Magic struggled: Rashard Lewis played the way he should have, but couldn't get his open looks to drop, finishing with 7 points on 3-of-11 shooting; meanwhile, Jameer Nelson reverted to the tentative form with which he played Game 1 through 3 of this series, finishing with 11 points on 5-of-14 shooting, 5 assists, and 5 turnovers. Orlando faces a tough offseason with a lot of questions to answer, but we'll address those issues later. For now, Game 6.
|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.
Point guard Rajon Rondo set Boston on a good course early, accounting for 19 of the Celtics' 30 first-period points via a score or an assist. Orlando only managed 19 points itself in the period. In their wins, the Celtics forced the Magic to play from behind, and Orlando never recovered, though it came close in Game 2. Rondo's drives and aggressiveness in transition fueled the Celtics' hot start, and the Magic fanned the flames by failing to get back defensively.
The offense wasn't much better, although it did create a good amount of reasonably open looks. Just wouldn't fall. Nelson's lack of aggression puzzled me, as did the repeated post-ups the Magic ran for Howard inside. It's as though they abandoned what worked in their wins and reverted to what didn't work in their losses. Howard rewarded them by converting those post-ups at a solid rate, even finishing a few with his left hand. And Carter carried the team in the second quarter by driving to the basket; he rarely settled for bad jumpers off the dribble in this game, yet still fell victim to numerous mean-spirited Twitter comments.
The Magic might have had a chance when Rondo left after falling hard on his backside, but Nate Robinson stepped in and continued punishing them from the point guard position. Robinson scored 13 points in the first half and made good passes, but his best contribution came on the defensive end. Not known as a willing or engaged defender earlier in his career, Robinson used his strength, athleticism, and reach to pester Nelson and Jason Williams whenever they brought the ball up. He didn't gamble for steals, but applied just enough pressure to delay the Magic's from getting into their offense. Not to be too obvious, but every second counts in this game. Shaving 2 or 3 seconds off a possession, forcing guys to met the ball where they don't want to meet it... it helps.
Orlando did have a chance when the second half began, though, thanks almost entirely to Carter's second-quarter efficiency. Kevin Garnett and Howard traded buckets to start the half, but Allen's consecutive three-pointers broke the game open. The first came as the shot-clock expired. The second resulted from a poor decision from Matt Barnes to gamble in the passing lanes. He missed picking a pass off, Orlando's defense had to rotate to cover for him, and the Celtics swung the ball to a wide-open Allen in the corner. Coach Stan Van Gundy immediately signaled for a timeout, and appeared to shout, "Matt! No!" as his players joined the huddle.
The defense tightened up in the fourth, getting enough stops to potentially drive a comeback. After Pierce--who else?--opened the final frame with a three--what else?--Orlando held Boston scoreless for 8 straight possessions, and trimmed its deficit from 24 to 17 before Pierce drained another trey at the 6:49 mark. As was the case throughout the game, though, Orlando couldn't convert on offense. A few more baskets may have seen them make an improbable comeback tonight.
But a safer bet than playing great D for most of the final quarter and having to count on your offense to lead you back? Playing well, and with maximum effort, from start to finish. The Celtics did; Orlando, decidedly, did not. And so its season is over.