The Boston Celtics were able to defeat the Orlando Magic by the score of 91-80, further proving the notion that there’s a team from the state of Florida that doesn’t deserve to be considered an elite team and championship contender. And it’s not the Miami Heat. Buoyed by Rajon Rondo’s excellent play and a stifling defense that didn’t allow many open shots on the perimeter, the Celtics smothered the Magic in a game that wasn’t as close as the final score indicates. Rondo led the way for Boston with 26 points and seven assists, aggressively attacking Orlando’s defense and dismembering a unit led by Dwight Howard. Paul Pierce contributed with 18 points, five assists, and four rebounds. Kevin Garnett chipped in with 16 points and nine rebounds. For the Magic, it was a lot of Howard and little else. Howard was dominant, putting up 28 points, 13 rebounds, and three steals. There was little that Kendrick Perkins and Glen Davis could do to contain Howard, even though they did an admirable job of making him work offensively. Unfortunately for Howard, a scrap with Perkins in the second quarter that saw him throw an elbow after he was fouled on a play earned him his 14th technical of the season. The elbow wasn’t needed and it didn’t help that Howard threw it in front of an official, but it’s easy to sympathize with the big fella’s frustration when he’s getting fouled continuously on plays and sometimes not getting calls go his way.
In fact, during ABC’s telecast, former head coach Jeff Van Gundy stood up for Howard on his behalf and felt that there is a double-standard in the NBA when it comes to how perimeter players are officiated compared to big men. Some might say that Van Gundy was backing up Howard because he’s the brother of head coach Stan Van Gundy, but remember he’s a person that’s coached Patrick Ewing and Yao Ming during his coaching tenure.
Van Gundy’s word has merit and it speaks volumes that he passionately ranted in Howard’s favor. It’s no secret that commissioner David Stern has created a league that’s favored perimeter players and it’s unfortunate that players like Howard are getting the short end of the stick. In any case, that was a side narrative that isn’t as important as Orlando losing another game to an elite team.
To see players like Gilbert Arenas, Jameer Nelson, Jason Richardson, and Hedo Turkoglu not only get torched on defense but, for whatever reason, be unable to produce on offense has created a conundrum for the Magic that doesn’t appear to be solvable unless general manager Otis Smith makes more changes before the trade deadline that’s steadily approaching in a few weeks.
Rondo exerted his will on the game and because Howard isn’t able to be as aggressive on defense as he has been in previous years because the security blanket known as Marcin Gortat is gone, it’s forced him to be more passive with his interior defense. Howard can’t afford to get in foul trouble because he is, more or less, the first and last line of defense for Orlando. Rondo knew this and was relentless in his attack, dribble penetrating into the lane and collapsing the Magic’s defense in the process. Rondo made it easy for his teammates like Allen, Garnett, and Pierce to do their thing on offense and it resulted in an easy win for the Celtics.
Nelson and Turkoglu, on the other hand, had a difficult time jump-starting Orlando’s offense and that forced Howard to carry the load. Howard was excellent offensively, especially in the first half, mixing things up in 4-out/1-in offensive sets and playing a less “predictable” game that resulted in him scoring with relative ease against Perkins. Now granted, there were possessions that Perkins bested Howard and that’s going to happen because he’s one of the best post defenders in the NBA. But, more often than not, Howard had his way on the low block and was the lone steady stream of consistent offense that the Magic could muster out. Needless to say, Howard did his part.
Orlando’s perimeter attack did not.
The problems that plagued the Magic before the trades — lack of playmaking and creativity offensively — are cropping up again. However, Orlando’s bevy of issues are getting compounded because their perimeter defense is a mess and Howard is being forced to do way too much defensively as a result. It’s sad to watch.
The Magic aren’t a very good team right now — too many flaws.
Howard can’t be asked to be Orlando’s entire defense, play more than 40 minutes with little rest, drop 25 or more points, and avoid foul trouble for them to have a chance to win against the best teams in the league. Howard needs support and right now, he’s not getting it. Remember Tracy McGrady in 2003? Yeah, that’s what it feels like at this point.
Howard is on an island and it remains to be seen if reinforcements are coming.