Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
The Boston Celtics were able to defeat the Orlando Magic by the score of 92-88 in Game 1 of the 2010 NBA Eastern Conference Finals and as a result of the victory, gain home-court advantage in the series. The loss was the Magic’s first since April 2nd, when they were defeated on the road by the San Antonio Spurs, and snapped a 14-game winning streak dating back to the regular season. The Celtics were led by Ray Allen, who had 25 points and seven rebounds, and Paul Pierce, who had 22 points, nine rebounds, and five assists. The Magic were led by their starting backcourt, as Vince Carter finished with 23 points, five rebounds, and two steals, and Jameer Nelson ended up with 20 points and nine rebounds.
The game started out very ugly for Orlando, as it became clear very soon after the opening tip that they were going to be dealing with a different animal with regards to Boston’s defense. Yes, the Charlotte Bobcats’ defense finished the regular season allowing the fewest points per 100 possessions and they provided a challenge for the Magic’s offense in the first round of the playoffs but there’s no doubt that when the Celtics are healthy and motivated, they are the best defensive team in the NBA.
In the first half, Boston showed why. Aside from Carter, Nelson, and heck, even Marcin Gortat, no one else for Orlando played well offensively. The Celtics’ defense did an excellent job of playing with active hands, rotating with a purpose, and running the Magic shooters off the three-point line at almost every opportunity. Orlando has run offensive clinics in the postseason but this was a defensive clinic being ran by Boston. And it was beautiful to watch.
So what were Carter, Nelson, and Gortat were able to do successfully in the first and second quarters? For Carter, he attacked the basket … a lot. Never before in the playoffs has Carter been so determined to penetrate into the lane and be aggressive with his forays at the rim. And it worked, as Carter was able to score a majority of his points in the paint. For Nelson, he got off to a slow start but beginning in the second quarter, he was able to execute the 1/5 pick and roll with Gortat to perfection. The pick and rolls were a change of pace for the Magic in the first half, given that they ran a number of 4-out/1-in offensive sets for Dwight Howard but without much success. Instead, the movement and spacing on the pick and rolls allowed Nelson and Gortat to have some success.
With all that said, Orlando trailed by nine at halftime and seemed to be in the game despite getting off to a slow start offensively but things turned for the worse in the third quarter.
The Celtics’ offense came alive.
After Nelson scored eight consecutive points to start the second half, Boston went on a 22-5 run and seemed to be on their way to a blowout victory as they extended their lead by as much as 20 points. Not only did the Magic’s defense break down, but the offense couldn’t do much of anything. Howard, especially, was completely out of sorts offensively and was struggling to make an impact against either Kendrick Perkins or Rasheed Wallace. But Carter kept Orlando afloat by being a playmaker on offense, whether he was looking to score or pass.
In the fourth quarter, that’s where everything changed for the Magic.
Orlando was able to buckle down defensively, cut into the deficit, and hold Boston scoreless for a little over five minutes. J.J. Redick, Nelson, and Carter were able to lead the charge on offense but it was ultimately not enough, as the Celtics were able to leave Amway Arena with a win.
Two quick notes:
— Normally, Matt Barnes is a net positive for the Magic when he’s on the floor but head coach Stan Van Gundy may need to consider either playing Redick more or starting him at shooting guard and as such, moving Carter to the small forward position. Barnes didn’t appear to be moving very well when he was playing and Allen simply had his way against him. However, with Redick in the game, scoring became a tougher task for Allen. Since Carter is already assigned to Pierce on defense and Redick has proven he can defend Allen, it would be judicious if Van Gundy either lowered Barnes’ minutes or elected to start Redick.
— Despite what you may hear or read, Howard does have a post game but it is tougher for him to execute in the paint against Perkins and Wallace because of their abilities to use their strength to push Howard away from the basket and take him out of his comfort zone. Howard has had success against Perkins and Wallace in the past, but it was when he was using his finesse rather than his strength to score on the low block. Also, it is imperative to utilize Howard’s athleticism and speed in pick and rolls, that way he’s constantly on the move and isn’t stationary against slower-footed defenders like Perkins and Wallace. Van Gundy shouldn’t abandon Howard in the post, but certainly an adjustment needs to be made by player and coach. Howard needs to stay true to his word and try not to wrestle with Perkins and Wallace when he’s posting up, and Van Gundy needs to find different ways of getting the big fella involved offensively on plays that can be successful against Boston. Easier said than done, of course.