Defense Still Wins
There has been a lot of encouraging signs for Orlando against Boston this season. The Magic won the season series 3-1 and took both games at Boston in the process. Dwight Howard looks more comfortable attacking the Celtics’ interior defenders. Even Vince Carter seems to awaken offensively against this team.
But it is still completely evident that when Orlando and Boston get together to expect a defensive slugfest. And the game always turns on which team plays better defense.
Case in point: after falling behind by 11 to end the first half after a 27-17 second quarter, the Magic turned the tables with a dominant 36-11 third quarter. Everyone can agree the Celtics, when healthy or unhealthy, are one of the top teams in the league. To put that kind of defensive clinic on them even for a single 12-minute period is just hard to imagine.
Boston shot 42.2 percent on the game against Orlando’s defense. The Magic also blocked seven shots with two each coming from Dwight Howard, Ryan Anderson and Marcin Gortat.
For comparison, last year in the regular season the Celtics shot 45.8 percent from the floor (holding the Magic to 40.3 percent) and scored 89.5 points per game. In the postseason, Boston averaged 91.7 points per game on 44.1 percent shooting.
This year, Orlando put the clamps on them, holding them to 86.8 points per game and 41.3 percent shooting. Against any team that is good. Against an elite team like Boston, it is downright scary.
The Celtics are obviously a good defensive team too. Each game was relatively close because they were able to keep the Magic to 90.3 points per game and 41.0 percent shooting this season (which includes the Christmas Day defensive masterpiece remember).
Defense wins championships, but never has it meant more than against a team like Boston.
Vince Carter is back?
Stan Van Gundy does not want anyone talking about turning the corner. But when it comes to Vince Carter, Magic fans are looking for any sign that he is resuming his superstar self. After an abysmal January, Carter has suddenly started to pick up his play.
Carter had another good performance in Boston as he scored a team-high 20 points. This is not your usual Vince Carter 20 points though (with the Magic at least). Carter has shot 43.6 percent in games he has scored 20 points or more and is averaging 20.1 shots per game in those games.
Today, Carter scored 20 points on 7-of-12 shooting, including hitting on three of his four 3-point attempts.
January was bad and those numbers have been brought up plenty of times. But in three games in February, Carter has averaged 19.3 points per game and shot 43.2 percent from the floor. Paired with the 21 points he scored Friday, it is the first time since December 30 that Carter has had back-to-back 20-point games (Dec. 30 against Milwaukee and Dec. 25 against Boston).
That is more of the Vince Carter the Magic were expecting when they acquired him.
It seems like Carter is starting to move in a positive direction with his play. But again, it is hard to tell how long this will last. Certainly the All Star break will help all his nagging injuries (shoulder, ankle specifically) to heal. How he comes out of that will let us know what kind of Carter we are getting.
Where did the lead go?
Boston is a good team. Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett should be able to get their team to erase almost any deficit against almost anyone.
But after Friday’s collapse against the Wizards and just general trends throughout the season, the Magic are still struggling holding onto leads.
Orlando went up 17 early in the fourth quarter and watched Boston make it far closer than it should have gotten. The Celtics got the lead down to five with 43.4 seconds left. Who knows how much closer Boston could have gotten if Rashard Lewis did not hit a runner as the shot clock expired on the next possession.
The Magic might be thinking about the table Orlando Pinstriped Post compiled every time they get a lead. It is pretty hard evidence that Orlando is struggling to put any team away.
As you might also have noticed, the Magic are also doing a good job erasing leads. Orlando had a 25-point turnaround in eradicating Boston’s 11-point halftime lead.
This is a difficult question to answer. Do the Magic relax when they have a lead or stop feeding the ball to Dwight Howard? My eyes say they tend to do this, but hot shooting is usually what brings Orlando back into games or helps the team get out to big leads. Thus the conundrum.
I am sure this is something Van Gundy loses sleep over and tries to find ways to prod his team in the right direction. But I am also sure that he is happy to walk out of Boston with a win more than anything.