Orlando needed a win. It needed to send the series back to Boston tied at one. The team could not afford to fall any further behind against a team that still has so many pieces from its 2008 championship team.
When Boston took a double digit lead in the third quarter, Orlando needed to fight back. The Magic chipped away at the lead as the Celtics continually made baskets that would break most teams’ hearts. But Orlando kept fighting.
Riding the back of Dwight Howard the Magic took a 90-89 lead. Then the Celtics and their veteran crew made the plays while the Magic floundered under pressure.
Kevin Garnett hit a jumper to give Boston the lead back for good. Rajon Rondo followed with a tough jumper over Rashard Lewis. Then Vince Carter missed two free throws to keep Orlando within one. After a missed shot, JJ Redick dribbled the ball near half court before calling a timeout, wasting a few precious seconds.
Jameer Nelson had to come back to the ball before trying to launch a long 3-pointer that fell short. Boston won 95-92 and took a 2-0 series lead into Saturday’s Game Three in Boston.
Things are not looking up for Orlando right now any way you slice it. A few days of Stan Van Gundy preparation should help a little, but more answers are needed if the Magic are to get back in this series.
Dwight Howard did his job. He scored 30 points and grabbed eight rebounds, converting from both the field and the line. He was patient and used his athleticism to get space for shots. He vowed after Game One not to fall into the trap of wrestling with Boston’s defenders and kept it. He only had one offensive foul in the game and helped rack up fouls on anyone who defended him — Kendrick Perkins fouled out, Rasheed Wallace had five and Glenn Davis finished with three.
JJ Redick provided a spark off the bench early as Orlando struggled. He scored 16 points off the bench and led a first quarter charge to keep the Magic in the game after they fell behind by eight. His timeout gaffe aside, Redick played a fine game.
But in the end, it simply was not enough.
Boston was the better team tonight, attacking the basket and drawing fouls (both real and iffy). Orlando did a better job on the pick and roll, but Boston found the holes and cut to open space. Orlando was again a step slow defensively. The Celtics shot 45.9 percent and hit 22 of 28 free throws.
Orlando had its moments for sure and again made the game close, knocking on the door for victory. But it could not put all the pieces together, playing from behind for too long and needing too many things to go right.
Howard dominated, but he was not getting the ball at the end of games. Instead Vince Carter had the ball in his hands. Instead of attacking the basket, the way he has had the most success in this series, he settled for tough fall away jumpers over Kevin Garnett. It was no surprise Carter finished with 16 points on 5-of-15 shooting. He could not ever get anything going consistently as he tried to force offense.
That was perhaps Stan Van Gundy’s biggest complaint. The Magic were not patient enough offensively throughout the game. They had their moments where the ball would move well around the perimeter. The final stats do not bode well for Orlando. The team shot 39.4 percent for the game and again struggled offensively.
These are equal teams (you would like to think, at least), but the Celtics are playing better right now. While Boston rolls, Orlando seems to be losing its composure faster and faster.
There was bad officiating tonight, there is no getting around it. But instead of putting their head down and continuing to fight, the Magic were chirping at the referees and chirping at each other. The fans certainly fed the frenzy. But Orlando quit fighting for a moment. And a moment is all Boston needs.
The Celtics played a great game tonight. Paul Pierce was on fire throughout the night on his way to 28 points and Rajon Rondo did a good job attacking the paint off the pick and roll and making Howard make tough decisions on how to defend. Orlando’s defense was lax and Rondo took advantage.
Boston is playing like a team who knows how to win a championship. Orlando is playing like a team that does not know how to respond when punched. That must change before anything else.
It won’t be easy. Boston is not an easy place to win. Optimism is tough to find for fans right now, but Howard said it best in his press conference today. The team needs to stay positive and keep believing if Orlando wants to get back in this series.