The Orlando Magic prevailed over the Boston Celtics, 83-78, in an ugly game for both sides, marred by turnovers and poor shooting. In the end, Orlando's big first quarter--it held a 29-13 advantage after the first 12 minutes--and its strong crunch-time defense were enough to defeat Boston. Vince Carter led everyone in scoring with 26 points, but took 29 shots from the field and committed 6 turnovers. Rashard Lewis added a quiet 15 and 10 rebounds, with Mickael Pietrus scoring 14 to round out Orlando's double-figure scorers. Paul Pierce scored a team-high 21 for the Celtics, who struggled to get anything going offensively against the Magic's stout defense.
|Team||Pace||Efficiency||eFG%||FT Rate||OReb%||TO Rate|
This game was the latest entry in a series of meetings between these two teams which has seen the Magic jump out to an early lead, the Celtics fighting to get back into it, only to see Orlando finally eke out the win in the final minutes. The Magic led by as many as 16, and the Celtics never took the lead from there; the closest they came was when they tied the game at 78 with 2:54 to play. Spoiler alert: they didn't score the rest of the way. The Celtics did not convert on their final 3 possessions, whereas the Magic did. Obviously, that's the difference in the game.
Boston finally had Kevin Garnett healthy--as you well know, given how often the media cite his absence from last year's Magic/Celtics playoffs series as a reason for Boston's defeat--and he truly made an impact. 13 points on 13 shots? Not great. 11 boards, incuding 4 offensive? That's good. 3 blocks, all perfectly clean? Tremendous. He showed he can defend Lewis or Dwight Howard anywhere. As a result, Howard hardly touched the ball in the half-court offense. He shot 2-of-4 from the field and 5-of-13 from the line for 9 points. None of this is unexpected, as Kendrick Perkins and Rasheed Wallace always do a commendable job defending Howard one-on-one. Having another capable defender to throw at him is a luxury for Boston. Howard was a non-factor on that end of the floor--but he might have been, had the Magic used the pick-and-roll more often--although he played excellent defense. In turn, the Magic had to look elsewhere for their offense.
Enter Vince Carter. He played a maddeningly erratic game, with no shortage of ill-advised jumpers early in the shot clock. But he made good things happen, too. He moved the ball, looked to create off the dribble (although he wasn't always successful), and made some key baskets. His absurdly difficult fadeaway from the left baseline--which looked good as soon as it left his hand, I should add--broke the 78-78 tie and seemed to quiet the TD Garden crowd.
One of the big questions surrounding the Magic's acquisition of Carter was his ability to perform in the clutch, especially relative to Hedo Turkoglu, the Magic's go-to, crunch-time scorer in each of the last two seasons. All the stats skewed heavily in Carter's favor, as we've pointed out several times at this site. Tonight, in his first big-time game with the Magic that went down to the wire, he provided mixed results. Indeed he did score 10 of the Magic's 17 points in the period, including what proved to be the decisive go-ahead jumper. He also used 12 of the Magic's possessions, with 10 shooting possessions (9 jumpers, 1 at the rim) and 2 turnovers. That's inefficient. Then again, any go-to scorer is going to struggle against a defense as ratcheted up as Boston's tonight. I hate to harp on a guy whose 3-point play--on his lone foray into the lane in the period--gave the Magic a 4-point lead with 4:34 to play, or who made the aforementioned go-ahead shot. The Magic put the game in his hands, and he delivered... inefficiently, in the final analysis, but a delivery nonetheless.
I'm hundreds of words into this post and I still haven't mentioned Pietrus' hot night, apart from his scoring total in the opening paragraph. Air France did his corner three-ball thing in the first quarter, draining one from either side, and then a step-back off-the-dribble from the right wing for good measure; the classic no-no-no-no-yes! shot. The Magic count on Pietrus for his defense, and any offense he provides is gravy. When he's as engaged offensively as he was tonight, Orlando's a tough team to beat, as John Schuhmann illustrated on Twitter. Boston took away Howard, forced Carter to average less than one point per shot, and hounded Lewis into some difficult looks. Pietrus' 11 first-period points, and the 3-pointer that opened their scoring in the second half, were much-needed tonight.
With Carter's late heroics, it's easy to proclaim him the star of the game. For me, though, there wasn't a single Magic player who proved to be more valuable than any other. It was the team's excellent defense that won the game, and everyone deserves commendation here. The Magic challenged the Celtics' every shot, took away their dribble-penetration, and made their offense stagnate. When Boston moved the ball, the Magic rotated quickly and on-time. They communicated both in the half-court and in transition. This was a team that absolutely, positively, was committed to the goal of protecting their basket. Credit coach Stan Van Gundy for getting them suitably motivated for the game, although if Orlando can't get up for a game of this magnitude on the national scale, it'd have a serious problem.
Credit Jason Williams, too, for another game well played in the absence of Jameer Nelson. Williams had the unenviable task of containing the Celtics' Rajon Rondo, arguably the league's fastest player. Rondo's jumper, though, is a work-in-progress, so Williams just let him take 'em if he wanted to. Williams used Rondo's glaring offensive weakness against him, and effectively took him out of the game that way without having to expend too much of his energy. And on the other end, he directed the Magic's offense about as well as one might hope against a D as skilled and disciplined as the Celtics'. 6 assists, 2 turnovers. Sound.
Clearly, the Magic still have work to do. This game was competitive until the final 10 seconds despite their having a 24-point edge on three-pointers. Nelson will provide more scoring than Williams did (7 points) upon his return, but then again, the Celtics figure to shoot better than 2-of-17 on their three-pointers, too. These teams are indeed very evenly matched, and they treated us to a slugfest tonight. I enjoyed every blasted minute of it.