Pace: 92 possessions (slow given the OT)
Offensive Efficiency: 100 points/100 possessions (league-worst)
Defensive Efficiency: 104.3 points allowed/100 possessions (top-10)
Thumbnail: This is the 94th best-of-seven series in NBA history in which one team has gone up 3-0, according to ESPN Stats and Information. Of the prior 93, a huge majority—57—ended in sweeps. So Orlando has already pulled off something unusual, and they did it by making proper offensive adjustments and bringing their usual all-world defense. The Celtics just did not have enough. Boston looked tired and even passive at times (especially Rajon Rondo, who finished with “just” 9 points and 8 assists on 3-of-10 shooting). But playing arguably the best defensive team in the league will do that to you on some nights.
Recap: It’s late, I’m tired, a ton of crazy crap happened in this game and Brian (who worked this game at the Garden) will chime in with more later, so I’m going with bullets tonight.
• I’ll get to some of the nitty-gritty in a second, but let me throw out an underrated stat that tells part of the story of this game: Boston had 19 assists. The Celtics averaged 23.5 assists per game in the regular season, the 2nd-highest-mark in the league, and they needed a full overtime period just to reach 19 tonight. Boston’s offense functions best when the ball is moving, when Rondo can penetrate in the half court, when the team runs, when Ray can curl out to the elbow off of screens and move the ball from there and when KG can find cutters from the post.
And Orlando allowed almost none of that tonight.
Ray Allen and Paul Pierce combined for 55 of Boston’s 92 points, a preposterous amount for a team that has won with balance so far in the playoffs. And what Pierce got, he got primarily in isolation against Matt Barnes (who had no chance) or Jameer Nelson (who got switched onto Pierce too often on screen/rolls).
Ray Allen’s points came more in the flow, though the Magic helped him out with at least one glaring error—a miscommunication between Rashard Lewis and Barnes that allowed Ray to spring free for a three that brought the C’s to within 92-89 with 1:46 in overtime.
• That three came after Jameer Nelson hit two threes that took some major Cassells (and a bit of help from the basketball gods). He banked the first in off a screen/roll and hit the second with a hand (Paul Pierce’s, I think) right in his face.
And that was fitting. Jameer Nelson was the difference in this game. I broke down earlier today (or yesterday now) how the C’s have been able to stop Orlando’s pet Howard/Nelson screen/roll in this series. In that breakdown, I mentioned that there were openings for Nelson to drive to the hoop, but they were there only briefly, and Nelson had to be decisive and aggressive to take advantage of them before they closed.
He was both tonight. For whatever reason, the C’s big men jumped out at him more aggressively tonight (instead of sagging back as they did in Game 3), and Nelson kept his dribble and turned the corner almost every time.
• And when the first screen didn’t produce anything, Orlando set a second screen for Nelson in the opposite direction. Watch one sequence at 10:30 of the 2nd: Howard sets a screen to Nelson’s left, but Jameer initially goes away from it, to his right. Then he jukes back to his left, where Howard is still waiting with the pick. But then suddenly Nelson spins back to his right, drives and initiates a sequence that ends with Rashard Lewis hitting a corner three.
That is both good individual play and good coaching. Nelson realized he needed to be more aggressive tonight, and the Magic put him in position to be more aggressive.
• A word about the last play of regulation, which will draw jeers from the anti-Pierce isolation crowd—a crowd of which I am a reluctant member (reluctant because of my unabashed Paul Pierce love): The play was not technically an isolation. Watch it carefully, and you’ll see Ray Allen set a quick screen for Pierce and then faded to the left wing as Pierce dribbled right. The play is designed for a big man to set Allen a back screen, and for Pierce to deliver a skip pass to Ray.
That play has produced at least a half-dozen clutch shots over the last two years. The Magic saw it coming, and it produced nothing. You could criticize as it an obvious play call and one that took too long to develop and forced the ball from Rajon’s hands as he appeared ready to call a time out. Just don’t call it an isolation.
• Rasheed Wallace played his worst game of the post-season so far, especially considering the circumstances (a berth in the Finals on the line). The Celtics opened the 4th quarter by knocking the ball away from Howard and getting out in semi-transition. As the Magic rushed back on defense, Rondo pulled the ball up, waiting for a trailer. And he waited. And he waited some more. At this point, I thought maybe Wallace had been injured on the other end of the court.
Nope. He was just being lazy. By the time he appeared at the top of the arc and received the pass from Rajon, the Magic was set to at least contest the shot a bit, whereas if Sheed had been hustling, he would have time to set his feet and take a wide open three.
Awful. Then Sheed committed a dumb technical (the Magic made the free throw, and the game went to overtime—Thanks Sheed!), got whistled for an illegal screen and bricked another rushed three-pointer.
Doc pulled him, and Sheed never saw the floor again. Deservedly so.
Sheed: I thought you were here for the post-season? If you openly declare the regular season meaningless and say you’re here for the post-season only, that means you have to bring the effort in every single post-season game.
• Pierce was phenomenal. The Magic’s defense took everything else away, so Pierce took it upon himself to carry the team for long stretches of the game. As I watched him drive and draw fouls and hit tough shots in the lane, I kept thinking of a veteran pitcher getting out of jam after jam as he waits for his team’s offense to finally get going. You knew the team could only get away with it for so long.
• I’d have to go watch the tape to see if the Magic did anything hugely different on Rondo tonight. If they did, I didn’t notice anything dramatic. Granted, the Magic don’t have to do anything dramatic to hold a star guard to a sub-par game; they have the best defensive player on earth waiting in the lane every time Rondo drives. That takes its toll, and Rondo looked tentative throughout the game.
Maybe the early foul trouble took him out of rhythm; he picked up his 2nd foul at the 4:35 mark of the 1st quarter and sat until the 8:59 mark of the 2nd quarter.
Or maybe he’s tired. Dude is playing 42 minutes a game and doing the bulk of the ball-handling in every game.
• Dwight Howard was great. With one or two exceptions, he didn’t force things on offense and let Nelson create for him. He is a great finisher on the move. Also: His free throw shooting toward the end of the game bordered on catastrophic.
• When you’re playing a great defense like Orlando’s, you can’t afford to compound things by making dumb decisions. Here are some things the Celtics did in the first few minutes of the 4th quarter:
(11:36): Sheed fails to hustle, blows a chance at an easy three and misses a slightly more difficult one. We covered this.
(11:08): Tony Allen holds the ball for several seconds as the shot clock expires. TA was a disaster offensively tonight.
(9:42): Sheed misses a three-pointer when his feet are not properly set.
(9:15): Glen Davis holds the ball about 22 feet from the hoop, looks up at the shot clock and sees that it is running down, holds the ball some more and then throws a floating lob to Pierce, who is posting up Pietrus at the elbow. It goes out of bounds. Even if Pierce makes the catch, his only option is a wild turnaround as the shot clock expires.
(8:19): KG misses a fadeaway over Howard. KG should not be isolating in the post against D-12 unless the shot clock is expring.
(6:28): KG inexplicably tries to face up and take Howard off the dribble on the right block and loses the ball.
I mean….you can’t do these things against a great team.
And the Magic are a great team.
• Vince Carter: 1-of-9, 3 points, 3 turnovers. Yikes.
• Nate Robinson, summed up: He makes a wonderful pass to KG to set up a lay-in at the end of the 2nd quarter, then needlessly fouls Jameer Nelson with 38 seconds left and the Celtics in the penalty. Nate Robinson still does not understand how to play NBA defense. Honestly, I have no clue what is going to happen with Nate next season. Some team could blow $4 million per season on him, or he could be playing in Europe. I have no idea. He has no idea.
• It should not have taken me 1,200 words to get to Big Baby, because he was a huge spark tonight. His line—6 points, 7 boards, 2 blocks, 2 turnovers, 2 steals, 1 assists—looks decent, but doesn’t quite do justice to how essential he was at keeping Boston in the game. More than anything, he was smart and patient. Whereas KG rushed things in the post at times, Davis played with a calm. On one possession (1:28, 3rd), he took a pass from Rondo on the right wing, faked a 20-footer, took one dribble and squared his shoulders for a much easier 14-footer. It was a patient, solid play.
• The C’s continue to win the turnover battle and clean up the defensive glass. These are good things.
And they are things that should make us hopeful going forward. The Magic did the hard things tonight. They found the right counters, they played with a focus and aggression we haven’t seen yet. They now have to do that three more times, including once more in Boston
But make no mistake: The Magic are good enough to do it three more times, especially if Boston plays another game in which they are listless or careless for a few too many possessions. Because all it takes is a few, and the Magic will be up by 10 points. They are that good.
And they are good enough to pull this off.
So now it’s time for Boston to get some rest, find some of their own counters and get ready to play on Wednesday.