Orlando Magic play championship defense and defeat the Boston Celtics 84-82

Without a doubt, this was the Orlando Magic’s biggest win of the season and one of the most important regular-season victories of this millennium. The Magic kept no secrets about how badly they wanted this game – to get the inside edge on the No. 2 seed, to take the tiebreaker back from the Celtics, to garner some more national exposure and, most importantly, to show the rest of the NBA that the Magic aren’t a soft team. On Wednesday night, the Magic were tough. They were physical. They banged and bruised with the Celtics down low. They didn’t allow easy buckets, and their intense and ball-swatting defense extended all the way out to the perimeter. The Magic played championship defense. Boston’s three lowest assist totals of the season are against the Magic: 9 on Jan. 22, 10 on March 8, and 14 on Wednesday. The Magic have some type of inside edge on the Celtics’ offense. That stat is incredible. The Magic did an extraordinary job cutting off the passing lanes. It’s clear Orlando has spent a lot of time watching film on the Celtics – they seem to know what Boston is going to do and where it wants to go with the ball. Against the Magic, most of Boston’s points come from isolation plays to Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. That’s a different story than against most other teams, when the Celtics zip the ball around and thrive on ball movement. The Celtics go to Paul Pierce on crunch time. The fact that Pierce is getting so many isolation plays against the Magic – even early in the game – gives us some insight to how seriously Boston is taking the Magic. Howard rejects Pierce to end the game After Orlando’s 16-point third-quarter disappeared in the fourth, the Celtics had an opportunity to take the lead in the final seconds with the Magic ahead by one. I expected Paul Pierce to put the Celtics on top. I really did. And I think most Magic fans secretly did. But as Pierce penetrated and got to the hoop, Howard swooped in and rejected Pierce’s lay-up attempt. Pierce initially cried foul, but after the game conceded that it was just a good play by Howard. “The way the game was being called I wasn’t fouled,” said Pierce, per the Daily Dime. “I should have just taken the short jumper. Dwight made a great play on the ball.” Dwight was unreal 24 points, 21 rebounds, 4 blocks – the numbers speak for themselves. Dwight Howard had a little something extra for the Celtics. You could see it from the opening tip-off… Dwight Howard was going to win this game or die trying. Howard, whose kryptonite has been Boston Celtics’ green in the past, turned in one of the most memorable performances of his career. He worked dilligently on the offensive and defensive glass – 15 rebounds on defense, in addition to six offensive rebounds and eight second-chance points. Actually, Howard wasn’t effective out of the post, as he only had two points in a back-down post situation. But Howard was able to score in a variety of other ways in the memorable evening. Big ups to Courtney Lee Ray Allen has scorched Courtney Lee several times this season, but not on Wednesday night. Lee played some inspired defense and gave Allen very few good looks, holding Allen to 16 points on 6-of-14 shooting. I’ve seen very few defenders work as hard through screens and traffic as Lee worked last night. Despite multiple screens in the paint, including the square-shaped Kendrick Perkins, Lee never stopped getting after it. The box score says 11 points for Lee, but he contributed so much more than that. Courtney Lee earned his paycheck on Wednesday night and then some. Magic have to play their game With a lead in the fourth quarter, the Magic started clock-watching and stopped playing their game. They slowed things down to a Detroit pace, and spent the first ten seconds of every possession wasting time on the shot clock. The problem was, this led to a last-second forced shot to beat the 24-second clock, and the Celtics were consequently able to string together several stops and get right back in the game. The Magic’s upbeat pace got them the lead, and they need to learn to keep using that pace to their advantage. It was the kind of mistake a young team makes, and I hope the Magic are learning from their mistakes. They shot 32 percent in the second half. Stan Van Gundy was complaining about it in detail after the game. It’s something that will surely be addressed in practice. MAGIC’S BEST: The team rallied around the inspired play of Dwight Howard, who turned in one of the best games of his career. MAGIC’S WORST: It had to be the Magic’s fourth-quarter offensive play. The Magic tightened up and sat on the ball, instead of playing their regular offense. They scored 14 points in the fourth quarter and were barely able to hold off the surging Celtics. TELLING STATISTIC: The Celtics shot 43.7 percent, while the Magic shot 37 percent. The Celtics outrebounded the Magic 47-41. If you told me those numbers a month ago, I would’ve assumed the Magic lost by double digits. Not Wednesday night, as the Magic were physical and scrappy and everything I’ve ever wanted them to be. DEFENDING DWIGHT: As expected, the Celtics covered Dwight one-on-one when Perkins was in the game. It worked at times – Howard forced several hook shots, and you could see it in Howard’s eyes that he really wanted to score in the one-on-one situation. But Howard was able to do most of his damage on alley-oops, screen-and-rolls and offensive putbacks. UP NEXT: The Magic, who clinched the southeast division title on Wednesday, will play the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday night. Orlando will be pursuing its fifth consecutive victory. Photo credit: Associated Press

Philip Rossman-Reich

About Philip Rossman-Reich

Philip Rossman-Reich is the managing editor for Crossover Chronicles and Orlando Magic Daily. You can follow him on twitter @OMagicDaily