“Not even close, not even in the same ballpark as these guys.” – Stan Van Gundy on whether the Magic are playing at the same level as Boston and Miami.
One moment nicely delineated a key difference between the Magic and the Celtics yesterday at the TD Garden.
With 3:05 remaining in the fourth quarter, Dwight Howard fronted Kevin Garnett at the free throw line. That’s being generous to Howard, who sort of stood beside Garnett more than he actually fronted him, as though unaware the Celtics had cleared the center of the floor for Rondo and Garnett to run a little two-man game. Rondo lobbed the ball over Howard’s head to Garnett, who caught the pass and rolled to the rim.
Before Garnett could make the basket, Howard threw him to the floor. It wasn’t particularly thuggish as smackdowns go, but with KG being KG, it wouldn’t have been surprising to see him pop up and snarl at Howard (and then raise his arms and walk away when the officials intervened).
Instead, this was his reaction:
Garnett was smiling, having fun with his opponent’s frustration. He knew he and the rest of the Celtics were inside the heads of the flailing Magic, who were off their game for the final three quarters in dropping to fifth in the Eastern Conference with the 91-80 loss.
A minute later, Howard would foul Garnett again on an entry pass into the post, after which KG would walk away smirking as he headed to the free throw line. Then on the final Celtics possession of the game, KG committed an offensive foul on Howard, just for good measure.
That’s the Celtics for you.
(Bird-era Celtics fans should get that reference…)
The Magic will have some nights where they can deal with the Celtics in basketball terms, mostly when they hit a batch of three-point shots. But the mental game? It’s not even a contest. The Celtics aspire to inflict Roman Polanski-style psychological torment on their opponents. And in Stan Van Gundy’s crew, they may have found their Mia Farrow.
Speaking of the devil, SVG was not happy after the game:
I thought we were ready at the start of the game, but I thought we let our offensive problems and our concerns with all the BS out there, took away our focus. And I thought after the first quarter we didn’t defend well, I thought our offensive problems frustrated us, and some of the stuff with the referees frustrated us. Took away our focus defensively, which was the second thing. And then third thing, and this wasn’t to be negative or get on anybody, but if you’re going to come in on the road, and play the Boston Celtics, you’re going to need a lot of guys playing at a high level. And if you look out there today, we did not have a single perimeter guy play at a high level, and you’re not going to win like that.
Unsatisfied with criticizing his team in general, Van Gundy zoomed in on Hedo Turkoglu for some specific abuse:
I don’t like the way he’s playing at all. I don’t like his decision making, his shot selection, his energy. Usually with Turk, there will be two or three plays that are a little crazy. But for the most part, I think his decisions are usually good. I’ve never been through a stretch with him where the majority of the plays he’s making, I’m sort of saying ‘what the hell is he doing?’ I mean he’s coming off a pick, and has a clear path to the lane, and he’s taking a step back jumper. I don’t know the answer; we’re going to have to look at the tape. I’m going to have to talk to him, we need to do different stuff for him. But he’s not the only one.
Ah, Stan. Long may you run.
Of course, poking fun at Orlando’s mental makeup is only half the point.
Because when it’s Celtics v. Magic, it’s also about the physical makeup. And over the last two years, through decline and decision, the Magic have built a team without enough talent to challenge the big dogs in the Eastern Conference. Trading the weak-willed Vince Carter for the lazy Turkoglu doesn’t bring them any closer to a title than does exchanging the decomposing Rashard Lewis for the hobbled Gilbert Arenas.
None of these guys is a star.
None of them can play Pippen to Howard’s Jordan.
All the degradation of this Magic team was on display yesterday. Their three-point shooters (3-24) no longer inspire the kind of fear they did in 2009. Their perimeter defense is increasingly suspect (the C’s got to the line 34 times) and beyond throwing the ball down to Howard, they don’t have a guy who can consistently get his own shot against an elite defense (the Celtics held them to 34.4% from the field).
As many have told me, it’s too early to pass sentence on this group because Otis Smith still has time to add pieces and the Magic can still get healthier and more fluid as a group. All legitimate points. Still… I’m less and less inclined to entertain worries about an Orlando-Boston matchup in the playoffs.
At least until the Magic show us a few new tricks.
How about you guys?
Note: We’re not ignoring the Marquis Daniels situation. Brian will check in later today with some thoughts on what his injury means for the Celtics.