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Celtics and Magic: Same Game, Different Ballpark

“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.

No mercy.

No quarter.

(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.

  • SteveB

    I think you nailed it. Unless the Magic come out and start hitting 3's in the game they aren't going to win any series against Boston. I don't think they have a good chance of that happening. Especially when it seems like the Celtics often start hitting 3's when the other team does. Plus, Boston usually figures out the defensive adjustments needed.

  • Far East Man

    I admit I was a bit concerned for the celts when the magic traded for arenas. i thought, wow, it might ignite some old fire in him. but he's obviously done for as a scorer and elite player. he's in the same league right now as luke walton. by the way any chance we should sign someone now that marquis is down? any interesting free agents out there? I still say give sheed a 10 day try out. he might have changed his ways!! Lol! Go celts!

  • dslack

    Eh, I think you're getting a little too excited over what was basically a fluke 3-24 3PT shooting night. If the Magic made 5 more threes, they'd have been a below-average 8-24 (33%) and yet they'd have had 15 more points, more than enough to make up the 11-point differential. This of course doesn't mean that they necessarily would have won, because maybe the Celtics would have scored a little more too, but they would have been right in the game. In the previous two meetings, the Magic shot 11-29 (38%) and 11-27 (40%) in a 12-point win and a 3-point loss, respectively, so it's not like Boston always holds Orlando to 12.5% shooting from beyond the arc. In this game, the Magic shot much worse than they're likely to in future games against Boston, and they lost. I don't take this as terribly predictive.

    I DO think that Boston is a better team, but I think the differential between the teams is significantly smaller than yesterday's score would indicate.

    • NHBluesMan

      i agree. The Magic live and die by the 3… yesterday they died, but they have guys who are capable of going off on ALMOST any given night. I think the biggest difference now comes down to 2 men: Kendrick Perkins and Rajon Rondo. In those last 2 games that you mentioned we didn't have Oerk, and Shaq is no spring chicken anymore. When Perk plays Dwight one-on-one, it allows other guys to stick to their men and cause a night like tonight.

      As far as Rondo goes you can tell the impact he makes because in the past 2 games they Magic shot very similarly from the field in 3's (11-29, 11-27). HOWEVER, when we lost on Christmas we didn't have Rondo, and i want to say he was still recovering from his injury when we beat them by 3. Now that he's healthy you can see the clear difference he makes.

      This just really goes to show how much of a TEAM the Celtics are. there isn't a better STARTING 5 in the league as a whole, and i'd put our bench up against any other bench in the league.

      • NHBluesMan

        and by 'Oerk' i meant Perk 😛

        • NHBluesMan

          and one final note about Rondo…. he had 26 points in this game and D12 had 28. When Boston's 4th scoring option has almost as much as Orlando's 1st scoring option than 9 out of 10 times Boston is probably going to win

    • Ryan DeGama

      dslack – your POV is perfectly valid and it's one shared by many others around the league.

      Personally, I still think the difference between the teams is actually larger than the score differential yesterday.

      • dslack

        Ryan, the Celtics won by 11 yesterday and yet their average margin is 6.9 points, and the Magic are one of the better teams in the association.

  • VK28

    Nice to see rondo playin 50 % of what he is capble of…

  • diehardceltic

    Quote of the day: "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. "

  • JP-

    You hit this right on the head. I do think though, in a playoff series, Orlando could beat the Heat. If Orlando got hot, and let D12 loose down low, they don't really have anyone capable of stopping him.

  • kricky

    Great analysis of the Magic's team psyche. I think it really all starts with SVG, whom Shaq once eloquently dubbed the "Master of Panic". While much of what he said was true, he really threw his players under the bus with those post game quotes.

    He is the architect of that dumb-ass offense that goes away form Howard to jack up atrocious 3s. This, more than anything, limits how far this team can go.

  • Eric

    First off, magic fan. Anyhow, can someone explain the dislike for SVG? I don't get it. He doesn't complain any less than Doc does during the game, he just looks a lot worse doing it. Winning game 7 in boston(I know, no Garnett, but still impressive) and then going to the finals in 2009 pretty dispelled the Master Of Panic espeically when you consider the Magic had 3 losses by buzzer beaters (Iguodola, Baby, and Lebron). If it's just because he doesn't coach for the Celtics, that's fine and I understand, but the man can flat out coach and his record would seem to back that up. Plus, it would seem after his awful stints in Toronto and Phoenix SVG is the only one who can make Turkoglu useful. I'll end by saying I do think the Celts are a better team and unless the Magic shoot lights out would win 7 game series, I just don't get the Stan hate. That's all. Oh, and screw the Lakers!

    • Ryan DeGama

      I think Stan's a good coach and an even better quote. If anything he's hampered by the personnel on that team.

  • stephen

    Stan Van Panic hit it on the head when he says these two teams aren't even close. It's going to come down to the Heat and the C's in the East. Orlando has to be the most annoying team in the league to watch. The Magic have a 0% chance of beating the C's in a seven game series unless the C's have 1 or 2 guys unable to go.Their chances against the Heat slightly higher but they are still a longshot there as well. The Magic do everything against the book when it comes to fundamentally sound basketball.They give the term"" Playing from the outside in"" a brand new meaning.

  • stephen

    Also when the C's get Delonte back and they no longer have to rely on Nate bringing the ball up and trying to initiate the offense–where he is horribly ineffective—the C's will probably be unstoppable