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Magic Can’t Complete Rally, Fall Into 0-2 Hole

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The Orlando Magic staged another fourth quarter rally on Tuesday night only to come up short again, falling to the Boston Celtics 95-92. Dwight Howard was a monster for the Magic, scoring 30 points and grabbing 8 rebounds while Paul Pierce led the Celtics with 28 points.

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After trailing for most of the game, falling behind by as many as 11 early in the fourth quarter, the Magic rallied for the second consecutive game, outscoring the Celtics 20-8 from the 11:08 mark to the 3:35 mark when Vince Carter’s jumper put the Magic ahead 90-89. On the next play, the Magic forced a stop but couldn’t capitalize. Kevin Garnett then hit a jumper that put the Celtics right back in the lead. After a turnover and a missed 3-pointer by Jameer Nelson, the Celtics went up 3. On Orlando’s next possession, Jameer Nelson drove to the hoop and got a layup but Boston countered with two free throws from Paul Pierce. With the Magic trailing 95-92 and just under 35 seconds to play, Vince Carter wasted no time driving to the basket and drawing a foul. Carter proceeded to miss both free throws. The Magic forced a miss and J.J. Redick got the rebound, but didn’t look exactly clear on what to do. He took a couple of dribbles, perhaps thinking that he was either going to get fouled and or that he could get out in transition. After wasting a few precious seconds doing that, the Magic finally called timeout. On the final play, they couldn’t get the ball inbounded into the frontcourt and could muster nothing more than a 36-foot 3-pointer by Jameer Nelson as the horn sounded.

“We were playing for a stop and an immediate timeout,” Magic Head Coach Stan Van Gundy said.

Paul Pierce may have been Boston’s leading scorer but Rajon Rondo stole the show. Rondo scored 25 points and dished out 8 assists. He constantly got into the paint and when he wasn’t finishing at the rim, he was making clean passes to open teammates. Every time Jameer Nelson drove to the hoop, Rondo raced out in transition, and usually set his teammates up perfectly.

“Offensively, I was just trying to be aggressive in transition,” Rondo told the press following the game.

The Magic cleaned up their turnover issues from Sunday afternoon, giving it away just 9 times but suffered from another poor shooting night. The Magic posted an effective field goal percentage of just 44.3% and made only 28 total field goals. The Magic again had very poor ball movement and looked nothing like the team that many (myself included) claimed put on a “passing clinic” against the Atlanta Hawks.

“We’re not taking enough good shots,” Stan Van Gundy said following the game. “When we move the ball, we get decent shots. Not great, because they’re a great defensive team.”

J.J. Redick appeared to be the only Magic player who played this way on a consistent basis. Redick was a spark for the Magic all night. He made good passes and when he couldn’t find an open man, he managed to get players open by dribbling through defenders and forcing the defense to collapse on him. He hit a couple of 3-pointers, he took charges and he got to the free throw line, once even forcing Paul Pierce to foul him on a 3-pointer. He continued to chase Ray Allen around screens and did a very good job of defending him. He finished with 16 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists. Simply put, Redick was excellent.

As was Dwight Howard. Howard, who was heavily criticized for his poor offensive performance in Game 1, brought it on the offensive end in Game 2. Howard scored 30 points on 9-of-13 shooting and went an impressive (by his standards) 12-of-17 from the free throw line. After getting into a physical battle with the Boston big men on Sunday, Howard used his finesse game on Tuesday. Howard still threw down a couple of dunks including a pretty one off an alley oop, but the hook shot was, for the most part, his weapon of choice Tuesday.

“I thought Dwight was really good,” Van Gundy said. “I thought he played with great poise on the offensive end. And we did a good job of getting him the ball.”

Unfortunately for the Magic, Howard couldn’t quite match his rebounding or blocked shot output from the first game and Van Gundy thinks this is something Howard needs to do.

“What we’ve got to get him to do is put together his rebounding and blocked shots from Game 1 with his offense from Game 2,” Van Gundy explained.

Howard’s numbers (8 rebounds, 0 blocked shots) may not have been great but before he picked up his fourth foul, he was making his usual defensive impact. The majority of what Howard does on the defensive end cannot be accounted for. In the first quarter, Howard made two quiet, but excellent defensive plays. Kendrick Perkins got an open shot but Howard closed as quickly as he could, forcing Perkins to air-ball his shot over the basket. On another play, he got in front of Rasheed Wallace, who originally thought he was going to have an easy look under the basket, and forced Wallace into throwing a bad pass that went out of bounds.

“I think when I’m playing with a lot of energy, just being myself and having fun, I think I play better,” Howard added.

The rest of the Magic didn’t follow Redick and Howard’s lead. Starters Rashard Lewis and Jameer Nelson combined to score 14 points on 6-of-18 shooting.

More surprising than Orlando’s offensive woes was Boston’s offensive success. Outside of a good fourth quarter in which they held Boston to just 17 points on 16 shots, the Magic had trouble defending the Celtics throughout the game. As mentioned above, when Dwight Howard was out of the game and after he picked up his fourth foul early in the third quarter and couldn’t be as aggressive, Rajon Rondo got to the rim whenever he pleased. Mickael Pietrus and Matt Barnes struggled to guard Paul Pierce, giving Pierce too much space. You just can’t give a player and shooter of Pierce’s caliber that much room to get a shot off. So despite the relatively quiet games from Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, the Celtics still came away with a victory and put the Magic into an 0-2 series hole heading to Boston for Game 3.

Game Notes:

  • I thought Howard’s hard foul of Paul Pierce during the second quarter really sent a message. Pierce was hesitant to attack the rim for the rest of the night.
  • Pierce scored just 6 points in the second half.
  • Vince Carter has shown a lot of heart and put forth a very good effort in this series, but will be remembered for nothing more than his two Nick Anderson-esque misses from the charity stripe.
  • Redick’s 16 points were a playoff career high.
  • For the first time this postseason, Dwight Howard did not block a shot.
  • The Magic have outscored the Celtics 52-35 in the fourth quarter of the series so far.
  • Twice the Magic have lost the first two games at home during a playoff series and in both cases (Indiana in 1994 and Houston in 1995), they were swept.

Next Up: The Magic get a few days off before taking on the Celtics in Boston on Saturday night.

Final Thought: A 2-0 hole is certainly not insurmountable, but it’s going to be very tough.