The Celtics let another double-digit lead wither away as the Magic nearly came back from the dead to steal back game one. With less than a minute to go, Paul Pierce came up huge in crunch time, making two free throws to put the Celtics up by five. Ray Allen nearly gave the game away by not boxing out a streaking Jameer Nelson on the ensuring missed free throw by Vince Carter- but quickly redeemed himself by making two huge free throws after the Nelson bucket.
Dwight Howard was mired in frustration the entire game and the Celtics went cold in the last five minutes of the game. If the Magic are going to bounce back, they are going to have to find a way to get Howard going. If the Celtics are going to continue to win, they are going to have to find a way to score down the stretch and avoid these ulcer- inducing offensive droughts.
The bottom line: The Celtics lead the series 1-0.
The Celtics defined today what it means to have versatile weapons. Kevin Garnett failed to see the same success offensively that he did against Antawn Jamison in the series against Cleveland and Rajon Rondo’s drives to the bucket were really hampered by Howard’s shot-blocking. So how did the Celtics respond after the two most heavily-leaned on guys from the Cleveland series were effectively neutralized? Paul Pierce and Ray Allen gladly reclaimed their swagger from their yester-years.
It might as well have been “Turn Back the Clock” night in Orlando as both Pierce and Allen returned to heyday form. Pierce got his game going early mixing in an array of strong drives to the basket and steps back jumpers. It’s clear that for one reason or another, Pierce’s eyes are lighting up when he sees Vince Carter in front of him instead of LeBron James.
Most of Allen’s retrospective production was made possible (unfortunately for C’s fans) due to a hobbled Matt Barnes. It’s pretty obvious that Matt Barnes was not 100% as he chased Ray Allen around in the first half pretty ineffectively. If he continues to lack 100%-like productivity on the defensive end, look for Ray Allen to have a huge series.
The Celtics, as a team, went to work tonight and executed beautifully for most of the game. In the spirit of their play, let’s do the same with some bullets, starting with the most impressive part of the Green’s game:
- The Celtics defense picked up just where it left off from the Cleveland series by being spectacular tonight. It pretty much starts and ends with how the Celtics’ bigs defended Dwight Howard. Kendrick Perkins has just the right amount of size and athleticism to be the perfect foil to Howard’s game. His defense is flat-out disciplined, which is a bit humorous when you consider how undisciplined his feet and demeanor are on the offensive side of the ball. Glen Davis was able to use his bulk the same way he did against Shaquille O’Neal. This is purely speculation, but I believe Davis does not even have to exert as much energy as others when he leans on post players. He has such great balance for a guy his size and his contribution to this win was irrefutable despite his less than impressive stat sheet. Many people have speculated that Rasheed Wallace was brought to Boston to be a stretch four and give the bench more versatility. Well, can can add “needler” to that list. Dwight Howard is a petulant player by nature and Rasheed Wallace is doing a perfect job of getting under his skin. After tonight’s performance, I firmly believe that Boston has the ability to shut down Howard emotionally and doing that will have a drastic impact on his play.
- Rajon Rondo had a solid game overall tonight but it’s evident that he is still trying to feel out th beneficial way to play on both ends of the floor. Should he go over screens and defend Nelson’s three point shot (which proved to be potentially deadly) or should he go under screens and roam the open floor looking for errant passes? He is great at defending both so there may not be a right and wrong answer. This may even be a situation where Rondo has to feel it out and switch strategies throughout specific games. Rondo also has to do this same type of “figuring out” on the offensive end. Rondo is not going to enjoy the same amount drive-time he did against Cleveland and Dwight Howard has almost eliminated the chance for three point plays on tear-drops and lay up attempts.
- The Celtics also did an excellent job closing out three-point shooters. The Magic shot 23% from deep and that number would be even lower if Rondo chooses the go over screens. That number will undoubtedly go up as the series progresses as the Magic make adjustments and just flat-out make more shots, but it is very nice to get off on the right foot. It’s easier to maintain good habits than trying the find ways to close out shooters and the Celtics have some good habits going.
- Tony Allen had a solid game defensively and a huge alley-oop dunk that showcased how open the C’s playbook is for this series. The amount of preparation this Celtics team undergoes cannot be understated.
- It’s all going to be about winning the team assist category for the Celtics to continue to win games. They are not going to win the board battle or the foul battle, so they must win the assist battle.
I really believe some of the preventable miscues will be prevented on Tuesday night. After Game one, the Celtics have accomplished the very least of what they set out to do: steal the home-court advantage. Fans have to be feeling pretty good after the Celtics dropped Game 1 in the Cleveland series and had enough resolve to comeback from a devastating loss. Now, the Celtics did not repeat the same mistake (despite how hard they may have tried to) and they have to be riding pretty high.
Enjoy this one C’s fans. I know I am.
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