The Celtics second half comeback really didn’t kick into high gear until the end of the third quarter. They’d made a run early in the second half but still trailed by 18 with 2:08 left in the third. At that point, Doc Rivers subbed in a backcourt of Marquis Daniels and E’Twaun Moore. Eight minutes and a nineteen-point turnaround later, the Celtics would be up by one when Daniels finally subbed out of the game (Moore played straight through).
Moore and Daniels made life just miserable for the Magic, pressuring the ball fullcourt (usually Moore) and on the perimeter (both). Their harassment kept Orlando out of their offense, often for as long as 12 or 13 seconds. It also seemed to make the Magic — who were probably too cognizant of turning the ball over after a bad third quarter — tentative. When a passing lane finally did open up, usually with the shot clock under ten seconds, Orlando missed the tiny window they had to make a play, and the Boston help would sweep in to close the gap.
On that point, the Celtics’ help rotations and their overall physicality were game changers. The officials let a lot go, but that’s partly because Boston defined this as a smash mouth game as they began their comeback. They set the tenor of the game. If we’ve been wary of anything with this team’s defense so far this year (and they’re now sitting at a tidy 4th in the league in efficiency), it’s that they haven’t played with enough force. They haven’t made teams uncomfortable enough. The energy of the second unit and the sheer will of guys like Garnett have changed that this week. Let’s hope it’s a continuing phenomenon.
The other major defensive actor down the stretch was Kevin Garnett. He was the third Celtic to check back in at the end of the third quarter. And he made a world of difference. The buzz will probably be around two plays in the fourth where he actually pushed Dwight Howard off his post spots, but that was just part of it.
Garnett also did the odd stint pressuring the ball handler from mid-court and consistently provided the second wall of defense against Orlando’s pick and roll attack. There’s clearly something askew in the mental matchup between Boston and the Magic, but part of it is just tactical. KG’s ability to show on pick and rolls, and sometimes double team the ball handler (and then quickly recover) neutralizes one of Orlando’s preferred methods of attack.
Anyway, an enormous night for Garnett, who’s turned in several of his very best performances the last week. If Paul Pierce is rounding into form, so is he.
The Celtics ran a few different things early in the fourth quarter last night but mostly they just gave the ball to Pierce and let him him go with it. He actually creates more shifts in the defense than Rajon Rondo because he’s much more dangerous on pick and rolls due to his shooting and ability to drive and draw contact. So, pick and rolls are what we got down the stretch. Lots of them. Pierce and Moore ran a version of the flare screen we usually see with Pierce and Ray Allen at the end of games. The play is designed to get the screener free for a three-ball and because the pass comes so quickly, if the defense doesn’t switch, a quick pass results in a wide open three. The Magic didn’t switch and the Celtics got exactly that. Boston went right back to it and Orlando stuck on Moore, so Pierce created on his own. Simple and effective.
Boston also ran three pick and pops with Pierce and Brandon Bass, two of which netted field goals. And again, when his screener wasn’t open, Pierce took the ball to the hoop himself several times, getting a bunch of good looks at jumpers from all over the court. He didn’t make them all but the Celtics basically got what they wanted.
Pierce was playing loose and easy last night and at this point, there’s no doubt he’s the same player he was last season. If anything, there should be a question about whether Boston needs him facilitating the offense more regularly in the halfcourt.
Brian noted this last night in his recap last night but in the first half of the fourth quarter, Boston ran a few actions off Daniels in the post too. Usually, Boston would clear the side and then let Quis back his man down. Twice he made key cross court passes, once to an open Moore (three pointer) and once to Pierce (dribble drive, jumper) and once he found KG for an open jumper. Overall, a superb second half on both sides of the ball for Daniels, who seems to be shaking off the rust of his long layoff from basketball.
The Magic eventually found some success with Hedo Turkoglu bringing up the ball but that helped not when it came to actual shot selection. Glen Davis rattled off a series of missed jumpers early in the fourth, but to his credit, he seemed one of the few Magic players unmoved by the pressure of the moment. He just happened to miss (although he took one or two awfully early in the shot clock).
Howard was uncomfortable in the post and kicked it out a couple of times rather than go at KG. That was an odd choice because when he did attack KG, he was usually able to make some ground on him. There was a 24-second violation. There were last second shots. And there were turnovers. Eventually the frustrations got to Orlando. Ryan Anderson, who was probably fouled, and Howard, who might have been, both ended up getting techs as the Magic went under for good.
Overall, a more satisfying game in some ways than the Monday win, and proof this C’s team has something they’re only now showing us. They may just be finding their identity, which means, instead of talking about how to sell off pieces, perhaps we’ll soon be talking about how to augment this core.