If they keep playing like this, who’s going to stop the Boston Celtics?
Certainly not the Orlando Magic, who walked into Game 1 against the Celtics as heavy favorites, having swept their first two series of the playoffs only to get blownout for thrre quarters, make a furious comeback that came up short, and eventually fall 92-88.
Everything you saw in the Cleveland series? More of that. The smothering Celtics defense? Check. The massive failure of the best player on the opposing team (Dwight Howard)? Check. Rajon Rondo playing brilliantly? Check. Glen Davis being annoyingly effective? Check. Ray Allen nailing shot after shot after shot? Check.
The Magic couldn’t get anything going for three quarters. Their offense looked stagnant and failed to capitalize on any of the perimeter rotations that gave them such advantages last year. Dwight Howard had one of the worst games of his career, and did all against single coverage. The MVP candidate continuously missed chip shots, failed to convert any and-ones, and missed his free throws on his way to a 13 point performance on 3 of 10 shooting.
The Magic made a late run, but the Celtics were able to hang on. The Celtics led by 20 in the third before the Magic cut it to 3 inside the final minute, but just couldn’t get past the lead as Paul Pierce and Ray Allen drained clutch free throws. The Magic comeback does give them some monetum, as Jameer Nelson was able to produce down the stretch in a key matchup against Rondo. But the Magic had dug a hole too deep.
So what were the specific elements that led to this Celtic win? Let’s do a bullets breakdown. Because there were so many.
- Paul Pierce torched Vince Carter, who had the best offensive game for the Magic with 22. Pierce worked him at the elbow, slipped free for threes, and hit several key shots in the fourth. Carter played terrific on offense, but if you let two of the big three loose, it’s hard to win the game.
- Rasheed Wallace was a best, forcing Howard to go to the line, getting in his head with rough contact, nailing threes and outworking everyone. Everything Sheed said about turning it on when it counts has come true so far.
- Ray Allen was spectacular with 25 points, shooting 8-16 from the floor.
- Glen Davis came in and showed off the offensive moves Howard did not, adding crucial buckets late as well as his usual whale bellyflop type energy.
- Tony Allen had another terrific game, including an alley-oop you’ll be seeing on every highlights package for two days.
The Celtics withstood a terrific charge by the Magic from Nelson, Carter, and J.J. Redick who needs to start next game if Stan Van Gundy wants to keep Ray Allen under 20. Redick showed what we told you he would, an ability to run off Allen and limit him.
Even with the late near-meltdown, the Celtics are now in charge of the series, have a blueprint for limiting Howard without giving up perimeter shots, and have homecourt advantage again. They look more focused, are getting all the breaks (including one stretch where Pierce was granted a ridiculous continuation, followed by Rondo catching a blocked shot for a floater), and are out-executing their opponents at both ends.
Everything really is coming up green.