Paul Pierce got the ball on the elbow with Jason Richardson staring him down. Everyone in the building probably knew exactly what was going to happen. Jason Richardson likely knew what was going to happen. It probably would not matter.
As Pierce pump-faked and drew Richardson into the air, he did his familiar lean in and then fell away to drain the jumper. It gave the Celtics a critiical 3-point lead in an up-and-down basketball game and proved to be the difference.
Turkoglu would miss a long 2-pointer that Ryan Anderson would rebound. Instead of trying to put it back up like he had in the possession before Pierce’s big shot, he brought it back out. The panicked Magic struggled to get into a good set. Jameer Nelson desperately looked for a way to get the team a 3-pointer but was trapped and instead turned the ball over to Kevin Garnett.
Boston hung on for a 109-106 victory at TD Garden on Monday night.
As you can see, there is plenty of blame to go around if that is how you want to characterize it. Why didn’t Stan Van Gundy or one of the players call a timeout at the critical juncture of the game? Why was JJ Redick not guarding Ray Allen, instead of Richardson, at the end of the game when Allen continually got open for 3-pointers? Where was Dwight Howard’s offensive looks in a game where he completely dominated the Celtics defense?
Those are all valid questions to consider. But really, this game against the Celtics showed that the Magic both could compete and play with a team like the Celtics but have a long, long, long way to go before they will be ready for a Playoff series.
This is a team that will be able to score with the best of any team.
Orlando scored 52 points in the second half and 32 points in the second quarter. That never happens against the Celtics. Even while giving up 60 percent shooting for the game (not a type-o) and a 62.1 percent effective field goal percentage, Orlando was never out of this game. The lead was never larger than six points in the entire second half.
Dwight Howard was a rock in the post to score 33 points and grab 13 rebounds. He made 13 of 18 free throws and 10 of 18 field goals. He had stretches where he struggled, but for the most part picked apart Kevin Garnett, Shaquille O’Neal and Glen Davis. It was almost to the team’s detriment where he was the only guy going offensively.
Hedo Turkoglu and Jason Richardson each took turns taking humongous shots and matching all of Boston’s attempts to pull away. Neither shot the ball well though. Turkoglu was 4 for 11 from the floor to score 11 points, to go with seven assists. Richardson was 5 for 14 for 14 points. Not the model of efficiency.
They had both their strong plays and their weak plays in the fourth quarter. Richardson especially struggled to contain Ray Allen who had one of his better games against the Magic in recent memory. Allen was coming off of screens completely free and draining 3-pointers. Everyone was surely wondering how he got so free. The reason was Richardson was getting stuck on screens.
For whatever reason, JJ Redick was not in there defending him even with Allen scoring seemingly at will and getting open shots. Allen had a team-high 26 points and hit three of his four 3-point attempts. And two of his 3-pointers came in the tell-tale fourth quarter. Redick was not having a great shooting game (one for four in 17 minutes), but was contesting Allen and making him work for shots, as he always does. You can insert your own theory in the comment section.
As much positive as you could take from this game, you can see there were a lot of holes too.
The late-game execution was particularly troubling as the Magic were just simply beat by a more experienced and cohesive team. All the upheavals in the last two years, and especially since the trades in December, have taken away of the familiarity. This team is still learning how to play together. This game will be exhibit A of how far this team still has to go.
It did not help that Orlando was playing from behind the entire game. The Magic held two- and three-point leads throughout the second half, but never had a handle on the game. Boston raced out to a 10-point lead early as Orlando got off to yet another slow start. Rajon Rondo was dominant early in this game finding his teammates with ease and attacking the paint at will. After the slow start, Jameer Nelson — like the rest of the team — kept him under control.
There is still some head scratching going on in getting this team to come out of the gates quickly.
Still, to be in this game while giving up 60 percent shooting to a team like the Celtics is simply astounding to think of. Orlando got to the foul line often in the first half — 27 for 36 (75 percent) for the game. Ryan Anderson came of the bench and sparked the team with three quick 3-pointers on his way to a 16-point, 8-rebound, 5-offensive rebound effort. He is quickly playing his way into the starting lineup (maybe).
The Magic outscored the Celtics by 24 points from beyond the arc in making 11 for 27 on 3-pointers. The Magic had 13 offensive rebounds too and won the rebounding battle 34-30.
Undeniably though there are still some things to figure out with this team. They are who we thought they were at this point: A team that can light it up offensively at any moment, but will struggle defensively.
One thing is for sure: this team is still learning how to play together and play as a team. The question is when will things click for the Magic?