What We’ll Learn in Game 1 vs. Celtics

How much will defense dominate this series?
Defense wins championships. It has gotten Orlando and Boston to this point. And it will get one of these two teams to the NBA Finals.

To get there someone is going to have to score. All bets are off on who that will be.

Orlando certainly has the offensive weapons and has been playing well on that end during the postseason (and in the regular season). Dwight Howard found a good — well, incredible — rhythm in the Atlanta series. Jameer Nelson and Rashard Lewis have been playing very well. The Magic’s offense could not have been playing much better as they got their second consecutive sweep of the postseason.

Boston too has been playing pretty well offensively. Kevin Garnett has found something close to the fountain of youth in the Cleveland series as he abused Antawn Jamison. It seems like Rajon Rondo gets a triple double every time he steps on the court. And even though Paul Pierce and Ray Allen faded to the background in the conference semifinals, it is very clear what they can do if a team is not careful.

The Celtics played about a perfect series on both ends to shut down LeBron James and knock off the NBA’s top regular season team. It is hard to imagine not even a little bit of that — even though this is a completely different matchup — carrying over to the Conference Finals.

If last year’s series or this year’s games are any clue to how this series will be played, more than a few games might come down to who can simply get the ball in the basket. Remember Christmas Day’s 86-77 day loss when the halftime score was 38-27? That is not too much of an aberration. Orlando and Boston do not play high-scoring games.

Things will not get that bad. The Magic have been in a series similar to this when they swept the Bobcats. Defense dominated that series. It will dominate this series. Except this time Orlando’s opponent can actually put the ball in the basket.

Will the Matt Barnes/Ray Allen switch work?
It is not even Game One and people are scratching their heads over a strategic decision by one of the coaches. Matt Barnes clued us in on Stan Van Gundy’s decision to have Barnes defend Ray Allen while Vince Carter will get first call on Paul Pierce. Barnes defended Pierce throughout the season.

Pierce though is obviously the better one on one player. Boston will look to take advantage of this matchup especially after Pierce struggled so much against LeBron James in the previous series.

The thought is to somehow protect Carter and keep him from running through the innumerable screens Boston is sure to run Ray Allen through to get him open. Van Gundy is clearly worried about Allen having a big series and is willing to put his best defender on him at the expense of putting a weak defender on Boston’s best player.

How long will this be able to last? It could be a key to the series.

Recall last year against Boston, it was JJ Redick who did a superb job chasing Allen through those screens and contesting every shot. You are not going to outright stop a player like Allen, or Pierce for that matter. What Orlando can do is really work as a team to stop whichever weapon is working.

The Magic have been really good rotating and scrambling this postseason. This matchup will creates some holes, but Boston is a good team that would do that anyway. Orlando will have to be ready and focused defensively to keep both players under control.

Has Dwight Howard figured out Kendrick Perkins?
Last year’s series between Orlando and Boston was marked by Dwight Howard’s struggles offensively against Kendrick Perkins. Perkins could be viewed as one of the “Dwight Stoppers” in the league.

But Howard has become much better offensively. He has a wider range of moves and learned he simply cannot overpower the strong and smart Perkins. It helps that Perkins will also know he has Kevin Garnett somewhere behind him to help out.

Howard did improve against Perkins and the Celtics, who also have Rasheed Wallace (another player Howard has historically struggled with), but not by much. He scored 12.2 points per game and grabbed 14.5 rebounds per game while shooting 46.9 percent from the floor. He is not going to dominate offensively like he did against Atlanta that is for sure.

But Orlando will need to get something from Howard this series. He is going to provide his usual stalwart defense, but offensively he has to do more. Has he figured out Boston’s defense? He does not have much time to do it.

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