The Boston Celtics spotted the Orlando Magic a 27-point lead Thursday night, but it scarcely mattered as the visiting Celtics closed the game on a 44-15 run to win by a 91-83 final. Paul Pierce scored 19 of his game-high 24 points in the second half for Boston, while rookie guard E'Twaun Moore added 16 points in 18 minutes off the bench. Dwight Howard poured in 16 points and 16 rebounds for the Magic, who frittered away their huge lead by shooting 22.9 percent in the second half.
With Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen out once again--as they were Monday when Boston held Orlando to a franchise-low 56 points--Pierce had to shoulder its offensive load, and the veteran did so capably, dishing 10 assists in addition to his 24 points. But the game was less about what Boston accomplished offensively and more about what it accomplished on D. The intense pressure Avery Bradley put on Jameer Nelson for all 94 feet keyed Boston's second-half resurgence, as it prevented the Magic from getting into their offense and forced them to freelance a bit. The Magic can't create for themselves one-on-one with a waning shot clock, and the pressure left them scrambling just to put something, anything, up toward the rim.
That wasn't the case in the first half, in which Orlando shot 50 percent from the floor and committed only three turnovers in blowing out the Celtics. J.J. Redick and Glen Davis scored seven first-half points apiece, while Ryan Anderson rifled in 12, helping the Magic overcome Howard's foul trouble; the All-Star center managed just seven first-half minutes due to three personals.
|Team||Pace||Efficiency||eFG%||FT Rate||OReb%||TO Rate|
|Green denotes a stat better than the team's season average;|
red denotes a stat worse than the team's season average.
The game ended, essentially, when Boston began chipping into Orlando's lead early in the third quarter. The Magic seemed unnerved and began to lose their composure. The panicking in the face of adversity, coupled with Bradley's outstanding on-ball defense, left the hosts utterly confused on offense. Boston effectively gummed up Orlando's offense. It tried to feature Howard in the low post, but given the scant time remaining on the shot clock, it put undue pressure on the Magic's center to create for himself.
It helps, though, that the Celtics started making baskets. After shooting 38.2 percent in the first half, the Celtics converted a blistering 53.8 percent of their attempts after halftime, including 5-of-10 on three-pointers.
A lot of Orlando's loss comes down to mental errors, which coach Stan Van Gundy acknowledged after the game. "We have got to be able to handle the physical play," he said. And the game indeed got chippy in the second half, with both teams getting away with lots of contact. But the Celtics just shrugged it off; Orlando seemed to take offense to it.
Howard, due to be a free agent when this season ends, has spoken often about wanting to join a team with a championship mentality. Thursday's game demonstrates that Orlando doesn't have one, by and large. It used to; the Magic squads of Van Gundy's first few years played through adversity and managed to overcome it more times than they ought to have. But this year, and last year? That hasn't been the case.
Some of the problem lies with the Magic's roster, which lacks a go-to shot-creator who can at least toss something at the basket when the defense gets really tight. Hedo Turkoglu is the closest thing Orlando has to one of those, but even he usually requires a Howard screen. But Jameer Nelson, J.J. Redick, Jason Richardson... these guys need shots created for them. They can't do it alone.
But the players have to take some blame too, clearly, for letting the game slip away. I don't mean to take any credit away from Boston, which quite obviously earned this win, but I do want to acknowledge the role the Magic's mental state played in the defeat.
Boston has limited the Magic to two quarters of 10-point basketball, as well as one quarter of eight-point basketball, in the teams' last two meetings. While not every team has Boston's skill defensively, those numbers attest to Orlando's offensive shortcomings. Better focus and a better roster, in some order, would have helped it avoid disaster Thursday.