The Boston Celtics were able to defeat the Orlando Magic by the score of 109-106 in an instant classic that saw both Eastern Conference heavyweights trade blow after blow until the final buzzer. Paul Pierce’s jumper and the foul, in which he was able to coax Jason Richardson to jump in the air to draw contact, ended up being the difference in the game for the Celtics. Down three points with less than a minute to go, the Magic tried to respond on the ensuing possession but after a missed shot by Hedo Turkoglu, they turned the basketball over and that was it. Boston was led by a balanced attack, as six players scored in double-figures. Aside from Pierce, who was the hero, Ray Allen was the standout player for the Celtics, finishing with 26 points and hitting key shots down the stretch. Orlando was led by a balanced attack as well, with five players scoring in double-figures. Dwight Howard had a monster performance, putting up 33 points and 13 rebounds. Ryan Anderson was, according to Kevin Harlan on the TNT broadcast, a flamethrower off the bench, contributing with 16 points (4-of-6 from three-point range), eight rebounds, and two blocks. Jason Richardson had 14 points and Brandon Bass had 13 points. Turkoglu chipped in with 11 points and seven assists.
In a way, it’s astounding that the Magic were in striking distance because their defense was atrocious. Boston shot 60 percent from the field, doing an excellent job of minimizing their turnovers, making free-throws, and exploiting matchup advantages whenever possible. However, there’s an easy explanation as to why Orlando was able to keep pace — three-point shooting. The Magic shot 11-of-27 behind the three-point line, which helped balance the scales a bit.
Allen, ironically enough, accounted for all three of the Celtics’ three-pointers. Two of them came late in the fourth quarter as Orlando and Boston went back-and-forth, trading shots throughout the period. Despite the loss, there’s a few things to take away from the game for the Magic.
Howard was great offensively. Despite being defended by the troika of Shaquille O’Neal, Kevin Garnett, and Glen Davis, there was little they could do to prevent Howard from scoring whenever he wanted to. Howard was able to create either on the low block or in pick and rolls — primarily with Turkoglu. Whether it was in 3-out/2-in or 4-out/1-in offensive sets (depending on if Bass or Anderson were on the court with him), Howard scored with dunks, hook shots, layups, and even the occasional mid-range jumper. O’Neal, Garnett, and Davis were no pushovers when they were defending Howard. But Howard deserves a lot of credit for being patient on offense and, using a cliched term, taking what the defense gave him.
Perhaps the only concern to take away from Howard’s performance was the small possibility that Orlando’s offense would stagnate, given that the players would stand around after they made the entry pass to the big fella. Granted, the Magic sputtered offensively but that was never much of a problem. Another item of note was Richardson and Turkoglu performing in crunch time.
Both players proved their mettle in late-game situations against the New Orleans Hornets in Wednesday’s overtime loss. Yet again, Richardson and Turkoglu rose to the challenge when Orlando was in need of buckets with the fourth quarter winding down and Allen hitting big shots on the other end of the floor. It’s becoming clear that head coach Stan Van Gundy has two perimeter players he can rely on when the Magic have to get a shot. These are things that coaches in the NBA try to find out in the regular season so when the postseason comes around, there becomes no question what the hierarchy is on offense late in games.
It’s worth pointing out that Jameer Nelson was able to make a big shot in the 1/5 pick and roll with Howard that tied the game at 104 before Pierce’s jumper.
And how about Anderson?
Anderson was a man on fire in the second quarter, providing Orlando with a much-needed boost off the bench. Luke Harangody was unable to stay with Anderson on the perimeter and that proved to be a problem for the Celtics.
Anderson was able to make four three-pointers in a span of three minutes between the first and second quarters. The first came off a pass from Nelson in the 1/5 pick and roll with Howard, the second came in transition, the third came when Gilbert Arenas swung the ball to Anderson on the wing after J.J Redick did an excellent job of dribble penetrating to collapse Boston’s defense, and the fourth came in a 1/4 pick and roll with Arenas. Needless to say, Anderson has been playing like a man possessed lately on offense and it speaks volumes that Van Gundy elected to play him, not Bass, in the fourth quarter with the game on the line.
Part of that was Bass’ porous defense in pick and rolls, allowing Garnett too many clean looks from the elbow and baseline. Part of that was Anderson’s ability to produce in a potent manner.
Last but not least, Richardson’s defense — or lack thereof — was a big reason that the Celtics were able to come away with a victory. Richardson got butchered, for lack of a better term, as he tried to chase Allen around screens. On Allen’s two three-pointers in the fourth quarter, he was wide open on both of them because of Richardson’s inability to navigate through a maze of picks. Allen would have had a third three-pointer with less than two minutes to go in the game, but Garnett was charged with a moving screen that negated the shot. It became clear that head coach Doc Rivers tried everything he could to feed Allen on offense, knowing that there was little Richardson could do to stop him. From a schematic point of view, Van Gundy will need to find ways to fix that problem or else it’ll continue being an issue for the Magic in this matchup moving forward.
Until next time.