Boston 92, Orlando 88; Boston leads series, 1-0
Yes, Orlando was rusty. It didn't look like the team that hadn't lost a game in six weeks, and it did look like the team that hadn't played in six days. And Orlando, because there's no way this team is double-digits worse than Boston in any capacity, did fight down the stretch to make this into a sort of novelty nail-biter, late. Orlando can't be too worried, because even at its worst, this was a close one.
This was on the Celtics, though. That fantastic defense, improving by the game. That decision-making. That coaching, that execution.
And, dare I say it, the Magic looked panicked. You'd be, too, if you were charged with scoring on the Celtics.
There was a reason for freaking out in the face of that continually impressive Boston D, but they had no patience offensively. They didn't take the time, personally, to set up their own shots (be they two feet or 25 feet from the basket) when it came time to work up a batch of fundamentals and fire away. And Dwight Howard(notes)? I don't know what was going on with Dwight Howard.
It was the perfect storm with this guy. Either he'd get Kendrick Perkins(notes) putting two arms on him defending the post (which should have been a foul), or he'd have Rasheed Wallace(notes) pulling the rug on him (expertly done, and quite legal). Absolute yin and yang stuff, here, and Howard never countered. Forced shots, moved too quickly while working too slowly (if that makes any sense, and I know it does not), and blew the chippies.
Even the shots he forced, he should have made. Little push shots after he'd picked up his dribble, I'm sorry, if you square your shoulders and follow through and hit that box with the leaning face-up two-foot jumper, it goes in. Everything was off on Sunday. He was too sluggish with his moves, but when it came time to work the fundamental aspects of setting your feet, working your shoulders and arms the right way and executing on a finish? He went too quickly, and too incorrectly, if there are degrees of wrongitude to work through.
Boston fans have to hate this. It's the superstar that's done something wrong! It can't possibly be Boston!
Well, when you see Superman tripping over his own cape -- and I was halfway into this lame analogy before remembering that Dwight Howard refers to himself as Superman -- you tend to wonder what's wrong with Superman. And you're just going to have to deal with that, Boston. All the way to the championship, it would seem.
For now, yes, it was the Boston D. It totally was the Boston D, making life uncomfortable on the perimeter, holding Rashard Lewis(notes) and Jameer Nelson(notes) to exactly zero 3-pointers, really turning this into an ugly game that the Magic just weren't ready for. Had the Magic played the Celtics two days after the Hawk series, we probably would have seen the same first half. A couple of other shots may have gone Orlando's way without that six-day layoff, and the Magic may have pulled out the tough win. But this is just the result of a giant uptick in competition, and a Celtic team that just knows where to be.
Just a point per possession for the Magic, and a turnover in every five possessions. More or less your hallmark, point-that-out, bad stats. Kendrick Perkins went all-Universe with that defense. Ray Allen(notes) recovered from a miserable Game 6 against Cleveland to toss in 25 points. Rasheed Wallace was absolutely everything Boston could have hoped for when it signed him during the offseason, and unlike his great play in the Cleveland series, this stuff showed up in the box score: 13 points in 20 minutes. 3-9 shooting, and just two rebounds, but shut up, Kelly.
And Paul Pierce(notes) ran the sort of line that gave Boston its championship two years ago, and had me thinking "Boston's winning this, in 2008" even with that 2007 offseason focus on Kevin Garnett(notes) and Ray Allen.
Pierce took 10 free throws. Eight in the first three quarters, eight makes all day. When he plays ugly, puts teams in the penalty and earns free buckets with a stopped clock? The C's are killer.
And this will be a killer series. The sort of series where you're already wondering about Game 2 second-half adjustments, or even Game 3 adjustments, while you're in the third quarter of Game 1. Just the counter to meet the counter that was a result of the counter that might anticipate the counter that could have just been put in place, or was this just some sort of reverse psychology? Did they anticipate how we anticipated the counter, and sent in a non-counter? Why does my head hurt?
In a way, Boston did what it was supposed to do. After taking itself out of the ring following that hot start to the season, the Celtics needed to make up for 3 1/2 months of lousy play by taking back that home-court advantage at the best possible opportunity -- facing a team coming off a six-day layoff following four games against an opponent that didn't care. In retrospect, you'd almost be angry at the C's for not taking advantage of this context.
But they went out, worked at it, and brought it home. These Celtics are so good, working so hard, and listening so well.
Thing is, the Magic are suitably woken up. And they'll counter. But should they counter to Boston's counter, or anticipate that Boston's anticipated the counter, and throw in an un-counter?
We'll find out on Tuesday.