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Boston Celtics 86, Orlando Magic 77

In a defensive struggle that only fans of the participants and basketball purists could enjoy, the Boston Celtics held on to beat the Orlando Magic, 86-77, at Amway Arena. Ray Allen led Boston with 18 points on 12 shots, while spot-starter Tony Allen filled in admirably for Paul Pierce with 16 points and 4 rebounds in 22 minutes. That's a 26.2 points per 36 minute pace, an improvement over his 14.2 career average. Vince Carter and Rashard Lewis were the game's first-and-second-leading scorers, with 27 and 19 respectively, but Orlando got very little from anyone else. Indeed, Celtics role-players Kendrick Perkins (6 points, 4 rebounds) and Rasheed Wallace (11 points, 8 rebounds) nullified Magic franchise center Dwight Howard, who missed 6 of his 7 shots and scored 5 points. To his credit, he continued to compete defensively and on the boards, with 4 blocks and 20 rebounds. The Celtics won the game on the strength of their defense, which limited Orlando to 77 points on 33.3% shooting, and 32 points in the paint on 43.7% shooting.

Team Pace Efficiency eFG% FT Rate OReb% TO Rate
Celtics 92 93.0 45.2% 27.4 22.7 22.7
Magic 94 82.2 36.5% 25.6 19.1 19.2
Green denotes a stat better than the team's season average;
red denotes a stat worse than the team's season average.

I've got a lot of notes/quotes from this game... but I also have dinner and family waiting. Forgive me, then, if I temporarily end this recap here. I'll update later this evening or tomorrow morning. Cool?

I'll leave you with this much, though: in terms of efficiency, Orlando played its 7th-best defensive game of the year; in effective field goal percentage defense, their 9th-best; and in turnover rate forced, their very best. Yet the Celtics still managed to walk out with a win on the strength of their own otherworldly defense. Boston held the Magic to 8 points in the second quarter and 27 in the first half, both franchise record lows. And the Magic finished with a franchise record-low 7 assists, which partially explains why coach Stan Van Gundy lamented his team's lack of ball movement.

UPDATE: So here we go with more.

Van Gundy blamed himself for failing to devise an offense that can score against the Celtics, and specifically for not getting Howard enough good looks. Thing is, I'm not sure what else he's supposed to do. The only Boston defender against whom Howard had any success was Shelden Williams... and he scored once in the 4 times he went against him. Twice he managed to back him nearly under the rim, then spun and elevated for a dunk. He missed the first dunk and made the second for his only field goal of the game. The first time he went at Williams, he again backed him well enough into the lane, then missed an open layup. That, to me, was okay; to that point, it was the best shot he had all night, and I wrote, "That will be there" in my notes.

Well, not if Williams doesn't play. He logged 6 minutes in this game, all in the first half. From there, the Celtics gave Howard a steady dose of Perkins and Wallace. Perhaps the most telling stand either player made against Howard was when Perkins bodied him up on the right block in the first half. Howard managed to bang Perkins closer to the hoop than normal, but then he scampered across the lane to the left that he lofted his lefty hook attempt completely over the rim, resulting in an airball.

The problems Wallace presents are more mental than physical, I believe. I'm not sure how else to explain Howard's losing the ball the first time he attempted to go at Wallace, without Wallace really doing anything. And the next time against him, Howard travelled.

Orlando tried to free Howard up by running screens for him off the ball, hoping to get him an extra second or so when he catches the ball. There's only so much a Carter screen can do against Wallace, though.

Thus, it was through Carter that Van Gundy ran his offense in the second half, and Carter delivered. The Magic ran the same left pick-and-roll with Carter and Howard in the second half, with Carter going left around Howard's screen, dribbling right to Howard's man--sharply showing on the play--with his left hand, before quickly crossing over to his right hand and getting to the rim for a dunk or layup. Even if Perkins or Wallace saw it coming, they had no chance to stop it; in no way is either player quick enough to beat a Carter crossover dribble. Watching this play work well against the Celtics' airtight defense made me wonder where it was in the first half.

As well as Carter played overall, he did make some questionable decisions in the first half, especially when matched up against the unathletic Brian Scalabrine. I have a healthy respect for guys like Scalabrine who manage to stay in the NBA with their brain. No, really. But even against Scal at his most cerebral, Carter should be able to get to the net. Instead, he shot jumper after jumper over the Celtics' slowest player, the wing player least capable of defending him on the entire Boston team. All 3 of Carter's first-half field goals were jumpers set up after driving around a screen to the right, then pulling up. One of them, by my unofficial count, came against Scalabrine, whom he didn't once challenge with a drive to the basket, if memory--and my notes--serves.

The Celtics effectively took away the two most effective parts of the Magic's offense: the interior and the three-point shot. Orlando shot 16-of-37 for 32 points in the paint, and 5-of-26 for 15 points beyond the arc. While some of those three-pointers were fairly open looks, they nonetheless didn't drop. Their only hope, then, would be to score in transition. Didn't happen. The Celtics creamed the Magic in fast-break scoring, 15-5, as Orlando managed just 3 fast-break shot attempts, converting 1. Boston? 13 such attempts, converting on 7. Referring to the Celtics' 18-2 run to end the first half, Van Gundy said, "When you dig yourself that big a hole you've got to be perfect on both ends and we just weren't." That sentiment ties in nicely with the stats just presented, as Orlando just wasn't able to convert on either end even after clawing its way back in.

Boston proved today that its defense is exceptional, especially against the Magic. And Van Gundy said that his team has a "pretty consistent problem with our offense against them and that is that we just do not sustain good offensive play throughout the game." Consistency is an issue, and Van Gundy will look to address it. So while the Celtics evened the season series at one win apiece--only 4 points separate the two teams head-to-head--and played lockdown D in doing so, I'm not quite ready to punch their ticket to the NBA Finals, as Tim Povtak did.