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NBA Playoffs, Celtics Magic Game 1: Where the Magic couldn't score inside or out

May 16, 2010, 7:29 PM EDT

SVan_Gundy.jpgMagics fans couldn’t help but ask: Who were those guys?

What happened to the Magic that steamrolled an Atlanta team (who finished with a better record than Boston)? They recognize the guys from the fourth quarter comeback, but that was not enough. Now the Magic are in a 1-0 hole in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Was that the real Magic team, and they are not a good as we thought? Or did we only see glimpses of what they can do? Honestly, the Magic players may not know the answer to those questions. Nobody will until Tuesday night.

What happened in Game 1 to Orlando wasn’t about rust while sitting out. Well, not completely. It’s a lot of time in practice where it was impossible to simulate what the Celtics do on defense, how physical they are, how long they are. The Magic certainly didn’t see that from an Atlanta team that went meekly. Suddenly, that presence was in their face.

“I don’t think we were prepared for the level that they were ready to play,” Vince Carter said after the game in a televised press conference.

Orlando looked caught off-guard. Like a boxer dazed after a good punch. The time off amplified that, but they simply had not had to go up against a team playing at this level of defense all year.

What Orlando does on offense is not complex — they go inside to Dwight Howard, and expect you to double team him. He may power through your guys and score anyway, or he will kick out to a deadly perimeter shooter. Secondly, they will run the pick-and-roll (multiple ones on one play) until the defense is out of its shape, and the Magic attack. They want their shots to be threes or in the paint.

The Celtics didn’t have to double or bend out of shape. They have Kendrick Perkins in the middle guarding Dwight Howard one-on-one, and that allows Celtics defenders to stay with guys on the perimeter. Perkins was pushing Howard off the spots he wanted to shoot, being physical with him. Kevin Garnett was helping and recovering like he was 10 years younger. The Celtics played one-on-one and gave up shots to the Magic in the paint, then just tried to contest them.

It worked, the Magic were not hitting shots over the long-armed Celtics defenders in the paint nor were they hitting threes (0-9 in the first half). What’s more, the Celtics played right into their hands by doing a lot of post-isolation for Howard in the first half. The Celtics were not dominating on offense, but they didn’t need to be to take a 15-point lead.

“They pretty much guarded everyone one-on-one, and we weren’t able to score one-on-one,” Magic coach Stan Van Gundy. “The biggest problem on the offensive end, clearly, though was turnovers.”
The Magic had 18 turnovers for the game.

In the second half, the Magic started to attack more from the their guards and they kept taking threes — then in the fourth quarter they started hitting those shots (they scored on 10 of their first 14 possessions in the fourth quarter). Jameer Nelson started seeing his shot fall, and JJ Redick was hitting shots from the second he came off the bench. Things opened up.

The Celtics held on to win because they have big game veterans who know how to hit key shots, guys such as Ray Allen and Paul Pierce.

The Magic are over their daze. They will play better next game, the guys that Magic fans remember will be back. Now, will that be enough against a good Celtics team is a separate question.

  1. chili22 - May 16, 2010 at 10:51 PM

    The good news for the Magic is that that was by far the worst game they have played in a long time and they still only lost by 4 points. They missed a lot of shots they normally make. But the Celtics definitely wanted the game more.

  2. Sam - May 17, 2010 at 12:54 AM

    Their losing by 4 only masks how thoroughly they were dominated in game 1. The Celtics are hitting their stride. Everyone’s in sync. They’re one of the better passing teams in the league, if not the best. They work the ball to the open man and them being the pros that there are, they’re knocking shots down. Defensively, it’s not a mystery what they’re doing. They’re allowing Perkins to plan man-to-man on Howard. A combination of Perkins being good and Howard having no semblance of a post-up game leads to Howard making what, like two shots all game? (Really, what do they pay Patrick Ewing for?…and Howard for that matter.) Celtics take this in 5. Then it’s on to the main event, the Lakers…the other team in the league with size and which can pass. Lakers will get it done.

  3. Craig W. - May 17, 2010 at 1:42 AM

    Dwight Howard hasn’t produced dominating games in the playoffs, even against mediocre competition. His game seemingly has not improved over the last couple of years. Tuesday will be a make or break game for him. If he can’t get it done then I feel all you media members should stop referring to him as the best center in the NBA. His playoff performances just don’t warrant that moniker.

  4. Anonymous - May 17, 2010 at 8:59 AM

    Anyone who counts the Celtics out, does so at their own peril.The Lakers are no match for a healthy Celtics team. A rerun of 2008!

  5. carol - May 17, 2010 at 9:49 AM

    Even if Howard had Kevin McHale coaching him, I don’t think it would make much of a difference. Howard does not have the feel for offense around the basket (other than dunks) and I don’t think that can be taught. A pox on your Lakers. I was hoping Oklahoma might knock them off early. Utah made a noble all-out effort but just didn’t have the size. Now I’m praying for Nash & Co. to do it, though it’s admittedly a longshot. I’m rooting for the Magic, but they’ll have to play great defense and hope they can live by their 3’s, rather than die by them, which we’ve all seen too often. Maybe Pietrus will repeat his performance from last year and jumpstart good things. Anyway, enjoy. (Just not a Lakers win).

  6. chili22 - May 17, 2010 at 11:58 AM

    If you are thoroughly dominated and still only lose by 4 I’d say that’s a reason for hope. The Magic played terribly until the 4th quarter. They will almost certainly play better from here on.

  7. T - May 17, 2010 at 2:05 PM

    They were dominated and in the 4th they put it on cruise control, as every team does. You hold the ball longer and waste the clock, and end up shooting a shot with no time on the 24 second clock, which usually isn’t an easy one.
    I happen to dislike both teams, but the Magic were thoroughly dominated on both sides of the court.

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