Dwight Howard of the Orlando Magic blocks the shot of Paul Pierce of the Boston Celtics in Orlando's 86-79 win
Photo by Jim Rogash, Getty Images
The Orlando Magic built a huge first-half lead against the Boston Celtics and fended off their valiant comeback effort, winning by a final score of 86-79. Dwight Howard led the Magic with 18 points on 6-of-13 from the field and 6-of-6 from the foul line (!), but did most of his work on the defensive end, with 13 defensive rebounds (15 total) and 5 blocked shots. Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis scored 16 and 15, respectively, giving the Magic a well-balanced scoring frontcourt. Ray Allen paced Boston with 32 points--17 of them in the fourth quarter--but missed what would have been the game-tying three-pointer with 40 seconds left. He also led the team with 9 rebounds. Paul Pierce had a poor game, with 16 points on 5-of-15 shooting to go with 6 turnovers, but managed to pass Robert Parish to become the third-highest-scoring player in Celtics history. Orlando's win is its 4th straight overall, and first over Boston in three tries this season.
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The Magic finally broke the cycle of needing to make big comebacks to win games, taking control of this one early by exploiting Boston's carelessness with the ball. Point guard Rajon Rondo was a late scratch due to a sprained ankle, which gave new Celtic Stephon Marbury his first start in white-and-green. Marbury played poorly, scoring 4 points on 2-of-5 shooting, committing 3 turnovers, and not managing a single assist. Without their floor general, the Celtics were unable to get their offense moving. At the half, they scored a season-low 33 points on 45 possessions, and committed 11 turnovers. The Magic's halfcourt offense didn't look great in the first half, but they were able to capitalize in transition. One play in particular shows the extent to which Howard dominated the game. He swatted Kendrick Perkins in the lane, then sprinted up the floor and beat everyone to the rim. Mickael Pietrus fed him the ball, and Dwight threw down a monster, two-handed dunk to give the Magic a 33-17 lead.
As I noted in the introduction, Howard's defense was more important than his offense. Let's give him credit for not quitting on that side of the floor, as he's been known to do from time to time. It would have been easy for him to do, given how physical Boston was allowed to be with him in the post. For instance, how often have we seen Dwight complain with an official instead of running back on defense, leaving his man open for an easy look in transition? Foul trouble limited Howard to only 28 minutes, but they were enough to limit the Celtics' effectiveness in the lane, for the most part.
Well, every Celtic except Ray Allen, who was magnificent. It seemed to me Allen did most of his damage in the lane in the 4th quarter, even with Howard contesting every shot. He treated fans in the TD Banknorth Garden to a special performance. Not many other Celtics showed up, though. Glen Davis, starting for the injured Kevin Garnett, had a game to forget. Call it Karmic retribution for his vicious flagrant foul on Cleveland forward Anderson Varejao on Friday night, or call it simply a miserable game. Whatever the cause, Davis did not score a point or grab a rebound in 19 minutes, having two of his three shots blocked by Howard, and missing his other one, a fallaway jumper, badly. He also turned the ball over twice and committed 5 fouls. He earned his last personal charging into Marcin Gortat. Davis landed awkwardly on Gortat's foot, twisting his own ankle and forcing him to limp into Boston's locker room for X-rays.
However, Davis' exit might have ended up benefitting Boston. Leon Powe got a majority of the minutes in his relief, and he responded with 12 points, 7 boards, and some energetic, effective defense in 30 minutes.
I don't want to downplay this Magic win too much, but I do want to be honest. The Magic had no excuse not beating the Celtcs today, given Boston's personnel deficit. If they weren't going to beat them without Garnett and Rondo, they weren't ever going to beat them. That said, I wouldn't go as far as to suggest that "Orlando Should Be Embarrassed." As I noted (via CelticsBlog) prior to this game, the Celtics had an 8-5 mark this season when trailing after three quarters. Everyone should have expected they would make a late run, especially on their home floor. The Magic did something that few teams have done this year, namely beat the Celtics after holding a third-quarter lead. Let's give them some credit for that much, shall we? In fact, Orlando played its most efficient defensive game since January 6th, when they limited the Washington Wizards to 80 points on 92 possessions. Howard has a lot to do with that, but so do Courtney Lee, Turkoglu, and Pietrus, who accounted for 7 of Orlando's 9 steals.
Of particular note for Orlando was the pairing of Marcin Gortat with Howard for the first time since Gortat joined the team last season. Howard and Gortat joined Turkoglu, J.J. Redick, and Anthony Johnson in the Magic lineup to start the second period. In the 7 minutes Howard and Gortat played together, the Magic extended their lead from 7 points (22-15) to 18 points (40-22), albeit against a Boston lineup featuring Eddie House, Gabe Pruitt, Pierce, Powe, and Mikki Moore. If nothing else, this game shows that Howard and Gortat can share the floor for brief stretches. It also shows that Tony Battie may have fallen out of favor with Magic coach Stan Van Gundy. Against Phoenix this week, Van Gundy gave Battie his 3rd DNP-CD of the season; today, Battie was the third big-man off the bench, only checking in when Gortat picked up his 3rd personal foul.
The Magic head to Detroit, where they hope to avoid a 3-game sweep at the hands of the Pistons tomorrow night. This win means nothing if the Magic can't at least stay competitive in that game.