The NBA suspended Alston one game Thursday for slapping Eddie House(notes) in the back of the head, leaving the team in the hands of 34-year-old Anthony Johnson(notes) and seldom-used Tyronn Lue(notes) for Friday’s Game 3 against the Boston Celtics in their Eastern Conference semifinal.
Alston contended afterward that House goaded him into the play. A Magic spokesman said Alston was not planning to comment until Friday’s morning shootaround.
Physical play has frustrated the Magic throughout the playoffs and ballooned into a series of foolish retaliations, a formula the Celtics look to continue as the series shifts to Orlando tied.
Dwight Howard(notes) lost his cool and elbowed Samuel Dalembert(notes) in the head to draw a suspension for Game 6 of their first-round series against Philadelphia—but Orlando still managed to win. Hedo Turkoglu(notes) was ejected in Game 6 for an incident with Dalembert, and the usually calm J.J. Redick(notes) was tossed Wednesday against Boston for arguing with officials after he fouled out.
“It is not an easy thing to raise your intensity level and keep your composure and emotions under control,” Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. “But it is going to take both of those for us to win this series.”
Orlando has been without Nelson since February when the All-Star suffered a season-ending shoulder injury. Lue will likely backup Johnson and the Magic will need them to play well after being dominated by Boston’s Rajon Rondo(notes) in Game 2.
Starting shooting guard Courtney Lee(notes) is still questionable. The Magic’s stellar rookie missed the first two games recovering from a fractured sinus. He began practicing with a mask on Wednesday, but his playing status remains uncertain. Redick, who has 27 points through the first two games in Lee’s place, has held his own against Ray Allen(notes) and been one of the few bright spots for Orlando.
Playing rough and tough is what the defending champions do best, and the Magic will be forced to do the same if they want to win.
The Celtics grinded out a first-round, seven-game series—with an unprecedented seven overtimes—against Chicago. They pushed the Bulls around, with Rondo shoving Kirk Hinrich(notes) into the scorer’s table in Game 6 and the Boston point guard whacking Brad Miller(notes) in the head for a foul in the closing seconds of Game 5 that some thought should have been called flagrant.
Those non-suspensions might leave the Magic feeling cheated. Regardless, it only took two games for the Celtics to get on their nerves.
House made a jumper in the third quarter Wednesday and was celebrating as he began to run down court when Alston reached out and slapped him in the back of the head.
“Yeah, I’m concerned,” Alston said after Game 2. “I can’t do much about it now. You know, the NBA is cool, they’ll look at the play at its entirety and they’ll see that he threw the elbow at first, at my stomach.”
Each player received a technical foul after standing face-to-face for a few seconds before referees intervened.
“But I’m really happy with Eddie, how he handled himself,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said Thursday before the team headed to Orlando. “You can tell yourself 100 times you’re going to control yourself. All you can do as a coach is keep reminding them of it and the consequences.”
The All-Star forward scored just three points in 16 minutes, hitting a 3-pointer for the first basket of the game and sidelined for most with foul trouble. He was able to laugh it off Thursday, but the Celtics can’t count on 31 points from House every game and will need Pierce at his best if they hope to get back home-court advantage.
“Yeah, that was the game plan,” Pierce joked. “Just go out and hack away Paul. Let Eddie House come in and score 30 and win by 20. Great game plan.”
“We’re not going to lose our composure to where we’re throwing punches or slapping guys upside the head,” Pierce said. “When a guy gets suspended, it could hurt our ballclub. With the injuries we’ve had, we can’t afford to lose anybody else.”
AP Sports Writer Jimmy Golen in Boston contributed to this story.