Tag: Boston Orlando

NBA Playoffs, Celtics Magic: Game 6 or bust for Boston


Garnett_headdown.jpgGive credit to the Magic — a lot of teams would have just rolled over after losing three straight games and meekly surrendered their season. I’m looking at you, Atlanta. The Magic showed some fight, caught a couple breaks and won Game 4 in overtime.

Then they came out and threw a knockout punch. A haymaker. It connected right on Celtics jaw in Game 5. It seemed to give the Celtics a concussion, and I’m pretty sure Kendrick Perkins dropped an F-bomb when it landed and got ejected for it. For Celtics fans, that one hurt.

Except you can’t knock someone out with a second loss.

By rule, Boston lives to fight another day.

It is Game 6 or bust for Boston, it wants no part of a Game 7 back in Orlando. Friday night is the showdown.

Game 5 was just a perfect storm of things gone wrong for the Celtics. Orlando couldn’t seem to miss from three, hitting 52% of their shots, and Jameer Nelson was 4 of 5 from deep. JJ Redick stepped up to be everything Vince Carter is not. Celtics players kept getting in foul trouble. Dwight Howard played 40 minutes and collected just two personal fouls while being the most aggressive player on the floor. Ray Allen was cold (3-11). Jason Williams was breaking people’s ankles. Rashard Lewis looked healthy and was hitting shots against the Boston defense.

Game 6 will be different. The opponent’s rims always seem a little smaller in big games at the Garden. Ed Rush will not be one of the referees. Kendrick Perkins should be back (although predicting the whims of the league office is fraught with peril). Allen and Rajon Rondo will play better at home. Magic players may end up in some foul trouble.

But it comes down to defense. Always does with Boston.

Kevin Garnett must be inspiring and be everywhere, as he seemed to be at the start of this series. In the first three games the Celtics took away the Magic pick-and-roll and forced them to do other things, contested threes, and then turned defensive stops and turnovers into some easy buckets going the other way. Rondo was pushing the pace and probing the Magic. Wednesday night, it was Nelson doing that (and getting a couple easy buckets for the effort). In Game 6, Rondo has to stay in front of Nelson. He needs help on those picks, but he has got to recover and help defend the man who the whole Magic attack centers around. He needs to be back in transition. It is about the defense first.

Paul Pierce needs to step up, ditch the melodrama, and play like the 2008 Finals MVP. The Magic don’t have a good matchup to stop him. He had 18 points and got to the line 10 times in Game 5, but he needs to keep attacking plus shoot better than 3 of 8. He needs to be the unstoppable force. Finally, the Celtics bench needs to step up with better than the 5 for 14 shooting performance of Game 5 (once you take the hot but foul-prone Rasheed Wallace out of the equation). Tony Allen needs to hit shots. Sheed needs to keep hitting them, keep defending and stay out of foul trouble.

All of this can happen. The Celtics still lead this series, they still need just one win and they are heading home to a place that has been a fortress over the decades. Those banners hang up above because the Celtics win things like Game 6.

The Celtics are not in that much trouble. But they will be if they lose Friday night.

NBA Playoffs, Magic Celtics Game 5: Vince Carter should do the exact same thing he did last game, only completely different and much better


Vince Carter had no redeemable value for the Magic in Game 4. He wasn’t scoring well, and finished with just three points on 1-for-9 shooting. He wasn’t making plays for his teammates, even if he wasn’t necessarily a ball-stopper. He wasn’t hitting the boards particularly hard, and he certainly wasn’t making any significant contributions on the defensive end. Stan Van Gundy ultimately pulled Carter for much of the fourth quarter in favor of J.J. Redick, and it was absolutely, positively the right move.

So naturally, SVG is expecting a bit more from Carter tonight. From Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel:

Carter missed eight of the nine shots he attempted in Orlando’s
96-92 overtime victory in Game 4 on Monday, and Van Gundy was asked
moments ago what he needs to happen for Carter to be more productive.

“It’s a combination of everything,” Van Gundy said after the Magic
completed their shootaround. “I think he needs to be more aggressive.
We probably need to get him in better situations, and he needs to make
the shots he gets. I mean, part of it is simple. Everybody in this
series other than Paul Pierce has had both good nights and bad nights.
Paul’s the only one on either team offensively who’s has four good
nights. So, you can ask that question about anyone except him.”

In summary: every non-Paul Pierce player has had a bad offensive game in this series, but Vince Carter needs to be more aggressive (coach-speak for show better shot selection while looking to attack the rim), get the ball in situations better suited to his talents, and actually make some damn shots. That’d be a start, because as Game 4 showed, Carter’s utility for this team is significantly limited when he’s not scoring. Putting up points is never easy against a defense like Boston’s, but Vince will have to find ways to get his if he’s going to help the Magic stave off elimination again tonight.

NBA Playoffs, Magic Celtics: Game 4 a good a reason as any of why Stan Van Gundy's job isn't in jeopardy


SVanGundy.jpgThe Magic were on the brink of franchise embarrassment on Monday night, as the Celtics were in command of the series with a 3-0 lead and came back to force overtime despite fantastic outings by Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson. Orlando’s season could have drifted away had Paul Pierce found an open Ray Allen at the end of regulation, but Pierce uncharacteristically bobbled away a late-game possession and the Magic survived the overtime period to avoid elimination.

That possession though, and the overtime as well, were icing on the cake of a much-improved overall game for the Magic. The defense still has plenty of room for the improvement and some of the missed opportunities on offense were just painful, but Orlando looked to be a substantial step closer to the excellence they displayed in the first two rounds of the playoffs and the final months of the regular season.

As good as the Celtics have been, the Magic’s unraveling has been something of a wonder. It can’t all be chalked up to Boston’s top-notch defense, as some of Orlando’s underwhelming Conference Finals showing seems to stem from nowhere at all. The Magic played against quality defensive teams in the regular season, but none of those games have been quite as befuddling as the first three in this series, during which Orlando’s offense was shackled, weighted, and thrown into the ocean.

Even beyond that, the Magic were the second best defensive team in the regular season, but the Celtics have averaged a full +3.7 points per 100 possessions above the Magic’s regular season mark in defensive efficiency. Considering how ho-hum this Boston team can be on offense when Rajon Rondo isn’t inspiring epic poems of his exploits, that’s a troublesome and somewhat inexplicable number. Orlando has underperformed in this series, perhaps woefully so.

Reading through that narrative, it may sound shocking similar to that of the Cleveland Cavaliers. They were a superb team in the regular season and still looked awfully strong in their playoff debut. Yet the team crumbled, and the first head to roll was head coach Mike Brown. LeBron received plenty of criticism for his Game 5 anomaly, but it was Brown’s reluctance to adapt the rotation that made the series against the Celtics far more difficult than it had to be. The Cavs still may not have won even if Brown’s performance had been flawless, but he was as culpable as anyone for the way Cleveland left the playoffs.

Yet you won’t — and shouldn’t — see anything in the coaching of that series that even remotely parallels this one. It may seem like Stan Van Gundy’s system is under fire, but SVG’s offensive adjustments in Game 4 showed why he’s still one of the best in the business.

With an understanding that guard penetration would be the key to unlocking the offense and that limiting Rajon Rondo’s effectiveness on the other end would ease his team’s defensive burden, Van Gundy devised an approach that could tackle both problems simultaneously. Whenever Jameer Nelson had the ball on the perimeter, he had the option of using two staggered screens to brush off Rondo. Rajon’s length and quickness had bothered Jameer throughout the series, and having not one, but two big bodies running interference freed up Nelson enough to pull-up from behind the arc or get all the way to the rim.

Plus, no one should discount how much running through screens can take out of a defender. Just ask any player who’s had the displeasure of defending Reggie Miller, Ray Allen, or Rip Hamilton about how exhausting it can be to chase shooters through screens all night. It’s not exactly the way that any player wants to spend their time on the defensive end. With Rondo asked to fight through several screens on pretty much every possession down the floor (another essential component of the plan was putting the ball in Nelson’s hands more often, which worked beautifully) while also running the Celtics offense, the burden of those dual responsibilities undoubtedly took a physical toll on him.

Running Rondo ragged, playing J.J. Redick major minutes, sitting the ice-cold Vince Carter during crucial moments in the fourth quarter — these are the reasons why Stan Van Gundy would have a job even if the Eastern Conference Finals had ended in a sweep. Among the most logical reasons to fire a coach is a distrust in them to make the right adjustments. That has never and will never be the case with Van Gundy. He makes mistakes — with sets, with the rotation, with certain play calls — but he’s a perfectionist that works tirelessly to correct those mistakes. He’s always tinkering, and his willingness to adjust is what makes him so valuable as a head coach.

Stan Van Gundy is not Mike Brown. Brown may not deserve the ridiculous amount of criticism he’s received over the years, but his inability to compromise — which is a bit odd to say for so amicable a coach — put his team at a disadvantage at inopportune times. The same is just not true of Van Gundy, and wouldn’t have been made more true if the Magic’s playoff run ended in a sweep. 

NBA Playoffs, Magic v. Celtics: Matt Barnes says what we already know about Paul Pierce


There are various degrees of flopping. There are players that “flop” strictly as a way to exaggerate contact in order to get a call they rightfully deserve. There are others who flop as a way to validate a smart play, like when the how every player that draws a charge isn’t just knocked over, but sent sliding across the floor. Then there are those who create fouls from nothing, and through a scream of pain, a flailing of limbs, and often a fall, some players are able to completely manipulate the referees into seeing something that flat-out didn’t happen.

Then on another level entirely is Baron Davis’ flop against Mehmet Okur in 2007, which is just tremendous.

Paul Pierce is a fantastic player, but the infuriating thing about him is that he stands (or falls?) amongst the most egregious floppers. It’s one thing for Paul to exaggerate a bump on the way to the rim, but the way he collapses on the floor after minimal incidental contact or pretends to be hit in the head while shooting seems like it should be beneath him. He’s honestly too good of a player to be compensating like that.

Matt Barnes, who has become intimately familiar with Pierce’s…gamesmanship, talked a bit about Paul and his ability to manufacture foul calls. From Tania Ganguli of the Orlando Sentinel:

Pierce can be a maddening player for opposing teams.

His ability to score and to draw fouls are among his strengths. Both
California guys, Barnes knows Pierce’s game well. And while some of
Pierce’s antics annoy Barnes, he said he doesn’t “go for” some of what
Pierce tries to do, he couldn’t deny Pierce’s effectiveness.

“My third foul in the third quarter, when I tried to beat him over
the screen, he fell down like I threw him,” Barnes said, when asked
about Pierce’s tendency to exaggerate contact. “It was ridiculous. But
the refs called it, so it was a good play. It was a flop, 100 percent,
and that’s how some guys like to play. But if the refs call it, it’s

Barnes’ quote applies more to a singular incident of Pierce’s flopping than a general trend, but his point stands. However, that doesn’t mean I’m here on a holy crusade to rid the world of the flopping abomination. That’s the problem, actually. No matter how much we rant and rave, there isn’t a convenient solution to get rid of this kind of play. Pierce will continue to go on rewarded for what he does, and there’s really not much the NBA can do about it.

Start giving technical fouls for flopping? Well, that relies on refs correctly identifying the flopping in the first place in the course of a game, which they’re clearly not doing. Fine players for flopping? It can be obvious like in that Baron Davis clip, but there’s pretty much no bright line on what constitutes flopping, and assessing who’s to be fined would be a hell of a judgment call.

Rather it’s just to reference what Paul is doing, shake my head in disgust, and maybe even laugh at him a bit. There are players in this league who need to sell calls in order to elevate their value and earn their next big payday. Pierce is not such a player, and it’s interesting to note that despite Paul’s hubris, he still thinks he needs to be.

NBA Playoffs, Magic Celtics: Dwight Howard does too have post moves

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Thumbnail image for Howard_game.jpgDwight Howard is a brute in the low post with no moves, he just gets by on his sheer force and athleticism, right? He can’t adjust because of that, which is why the Celtics can stop him, right?


Nobody is suggesting Howard has all the post moves of Pau Gasol, but he does have a few. And he can make adjustments — he did for Game 2 against the Celtics and ended up with 30 points on 9 of 13 shooting, and he got to the line. Orlando’s problem was that guys not named Dwight Howard shot just 32.8 percent on the night.

Zach Harper over at Hardwood Paroxysm broke down the adjustments Howard made with video and words. How he made better, more decisive decisions and that let him get off shots before Kendrick Perkins could get that big body into him.

Dwight Howard definitely has a post game and it’s still growing. Ever since some time in January, Dwight has been showing real improvement in the way he scores with his back to the basket and when he faces up and drives on his defenders. Like I said in the video, he doesn’t have a huge repertoire of moves. He’s definitely not going to be doing any Kevin McHale impersonations any time soon. But he has a couple of go-to moves in the paint….

Give him room to operate by spreading the floor and a confident, relaxed and poised Dwight will unleash his small set of post moves and do it effectively. Hopefully for Orlando, it will turn into some wins in this series.

The problem for Orlando is not Howard not scoring — he did that — it’s that the Celtics are not giving anybody else room to score efficiently. The ball movement that Atlanta did little more than watch doesn’t work against a team that can recover like the Celtics. Boston is contesting everything. And they will continue to single-cover Howard.

And if you’re watching, you’ll see a couple post moves.