There will be time in the next 48 hours to analyze this game completely and review what was a fun season for the Celtics, but for now, let’s keep it simple: The Magic made 13 three-pointers and shot 51 percent from the floor. The Celtics could not consistently defend this team without Kevin Garnett. Orlando just had too many shooters, and those shooters had too much length and quickness for the Celtics to able to hold them down four times in seven games.
The Celtics allowed teams to shoot 50 percent or better from the floor 10 times in 96 games this season; two of those games came in this series, including in Game 3, when Orlando lit up the Celtics like no team has in a game since Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen came to Boston.
Those 13 three-pointers Boston yielded tonight? That tied the highest number they’ve allowed in a game this season (it happened just three times this season and only once in ’07-08).
This Celtics team could not play championship-caliber defense consistently. Their defensive numbers slipped a bit against Chicago, a mediocre offensive team, and it was likely, if not inevitable, that Orlando was going to score on Boston at least once or twice in this series. And the Celtics could not rely on their offense and their three-point shooting to carry them, as they did against the Bulls. Orlando’s defense was the best in the NBA this season by some metrics.
The tendency will be to look for what the Celtics did wrong–to ask why Doc Rivers waited so long to try a small line-up, to wonder why Ray Allen shot so poorly until Game 7, to ask why the Celtics defenders had so much trouble guarding Mickael Pietrus tonight, why Eddie House couldn’t get free, and on and on and on. The reality is that Orlando is a very good basketball team that presents major match-up problems for Boston sans Garnett.
And so the Celtics are going home earlier than we would have ever expected back in December, when the team was 27-2 and looked like it would surely be the top seed in the Eastern Conference and the favorite to repeat as champions.
Some quick bullets to sum up Game 7 and the series:
• I wondered which role player would put his stamp on this game. It was Mickeal Pietrus, with 17 points in 24 minutes and a tidy 3-of-3 from deep. He’s a 35 percent career three-point shooter, but 35 percent three-point shooters will have the occasional hot-shooting game when defenders are scrambling to rotate around the perimeter.
• Speaking of which: According to ESPN, Dwight Howard got just 18 touches in the paint tonight, tied for his lowest number of paint touches in this series. But he was obviously a huge factor on offense. This series proved that we have a narrow conception of how a post player can create opportunities for three-point shooters. Howard is not Patrick Ewing or Hakeem Olajuwon, at least not against Boston. The Celtics do not need to double him in the post when he has his back to the basket. But they do need to help when Howard is the roll man on screen/rolls because of his quickness and athleticism moving without the ball. And that help comes from defenders guarding three-point shooters on the wings. And smart ball-handlers (I’m thinking here of Turkoglu more than anyone) are going to find those shooters.
Howard was +26 tonight; Marcin Gortat was -7. Not a coincidence.
• It was nice that Stephon Marbury had one moment in the sun as a Celtic (Game 5), but it was still one moment. The Marbury and Moore signings were failures. Could the Celtics have signed Joe Smith? Or Drew Gooden? We don’t know the answers to those questions. But as I argued at the time, signing Moore and expecting him to contribute was unrealistic. The Celtics bench had 12 points in Game 7, and just eight before garbage time.
• Give credit to J.J. Redick and Courtney Lee. They were fantastic on defense for the bulk of this series. On a plane earlier today, I was finishing up the book John Feinstein co-wrote with Red Auerbach in 2004 (“Let Me Tell You a Story”). In it, Auerbach discusses Redick’s prospects after attending a Duke game. Red told Feinstein that Redick was a better athlete–and a better defender–than people thought at the time, and that he’d be a better NBA player than people expected. Red Auerbach–right again.
• Paul Pierce was scoreless for 30 minutes of this game, and his critics will use this as ammunition to knock his career resume. They shouldn’t. Pierce played 95 games this season after playing 106 last season, and he was visibly exhausted–or at least a step slow–for entire games in the post-season. For many of those games, he was expected to defend the other team’s best scorer. He was gassed. Rest up, Paul. We’re getting the gang back together next season to make another run at this thing.
• Speaking of next season, I posed this question to some NBA bloggers/writers last week: Has Glen Davis done enough to draw something like a three-year, $18 million offer from someone? Keep in mind, the league average salary is about $5 million, though all of those deals were obviously signed pre-economic collapse. The consensus was: “No.” But he’s earned some money, and it will be interesting to see how much–and whether the Celtics are willing to pay it.
• Finally, let’s take a moment to appreciate this team and this playoff run. We got to see a thin, wounded team that had no real chance to win a title play with immense pride and determination. There is a moral victory in that. They won the greatest first-round series ever. There is historical significance, however small, in that. We saw the emergence of Rajon Rondo as a national star, Glen Davis as a shot-maker and Kendrick Perkins as a nationally-recognized elite defender. Applaud the 2009 Celtics. They are not the NBA champions, but they are a team we can be proud of.