by Nada Taha Moslehy
The home court team buried themselves alive, but not without taking a short gasp of air in the fourth quarter. Despite a major rally by the visiting team that cut the double-digit lead held for most of the game to a few points, a couple of free throws iced the score and the first game of the round shifted home court advantage the opposite direction.
Before you jump to assumptions, I’m actually not talking about Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals between Boston and Orlando. I’m talking about last year’s semifinals where the Magic held a 30-point lead on the Celtics and took home a 95-90 road win.
Ya, you can say that. Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo went 2 of 12 last year, while Rashard Lewis and Dwight Howard were held to just 19 points collectively Sunday. The Magic slowed down in the third to allow the Celtics to go on a 15-4 run in the semis, and in the ECF, the Celtics were outscored 30-18 in the fourth to give Orlando a fighting chance.
It’s just one game, but the Magic aren’t making any excuses.
“I don’t think it had anything to do with that (rust). I think it had to do with their defense,” Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. “I didn’t think we played with either great energy or very good focus on the way we wanted to play the game.
“So, no, I’m not going to take that as an excuse. We just didn’t play well.”
Instead of looking at rust as a reason, the Magic blamed their low intensity and mumbled over and over again about a lack of urgency in the locker room after the 92-88 loss.
While the Celtics jumped on the necks of the Magic from the get-go with a 3-point shot by Paul Pierce to start the game, Orlando waited until the fourth quarter to wake up and realize they weren’t doing intra-squad scrimmages during practice anymore and the third round of the Playoffs had started.
The Magic were held to 20 percent shooting in the first quarter and went 0 for 9 from beyond the arc for the entire first half. They tried, but they seemed to have forgotten where the basket was because their shots just weren’t falling.
But the Magic admitted it. They weren’t ready. They didn’t play hard enough.
“I don’t think we were prepared for the level that they were ready to play,” Vince Carter said. “They were ready to go from the jump. And we weren’t on their level in the beginning, more than anything.”
That slow start cost Orlando the game. They never led, gave up 18 turnovers and didn’t hit their golden threes throughout the match.
The Celtics did all that and more. They shot the ball well, their ball movement was impeccable and they caused Howard to struggle by sending in their bigs—Rasheed Wallace, Kendrick Perkins and Glenn “Baby” Davis to do some dirty work.
“They hurt you so well with their passing,” Boston coach Doc Rivers said. “When you have enough bigs that could just stand there and take the pounding—it’s a good thing. “
A major key to their game was surprisingly Rasheed Wallace. Yes, the same ‘Sheed that could barely hit a jumper and didn’t look too interested in the regular season. But he turned it on and turned it up against the Magic. Doc said Wallace always told him he knew it didn’t matter what happened in the regular season, and that he’d “be judged for what I do in the Playoffs.”
Well, his 13 points and 2 rebounds may not be a lot to fill a stat sheet, but his defensive tricks and tough mindset helped the Celtics beat down the Magic for most of the game.
Last year, the Celtics came back for a decisive Game 2 victory that eventually led to a seven-game, back-and-forth series.
So, whether it was rust, urgency, defense or Rasheed Wallace, it’s still just one game.
Check the boxscore and some highlights on NBA.com here.