I don’t know what has happened to the Celtics since the middle of April, but I like it. It isn’t a matter of rediscovering youth, they aren’t going to be able to get that back. Maybe they, and by they I mean Rasheed, have decided to buckle down, dig in, and make one last run before their primes expire.
Maybe it is as simple as Glen “Doc” Rivers and his assistants drawing up schemes that have so far slowed D-Wade, LeBron, and through one game Dwight Howard (for whatever one game is worth).
Pierce is either stabilizing LeBron, hitting game winning shots, or going off during a critical run by the Celtics. Ray Allen continues to defy age and race around screens for open shots or bolt to the basket. Kevin Garnett is even fun to watch again. His leg doesn’t seem so burdensome since Richardson got a little too close to KG’s elbow and his offense and defense have picked up when he realized that he is still Kevin Garnett. His jumpshot has returned and he isn’t the same intimidating shot blocker, but he does play good help defense and has returned to running the floor.
They made the Magic look ordinary for the first three quarters. That famed defense that brought Boston a championship just two years ago (although it seems almost half a decade ago) seems to have returned at least in spirit if not completely physically. They were able to play Howard one-on-one, something I feared they would be capable of. They stayed home on the three-point shooters, allowing less than the typical dozen Orlando has grown accustomed to facing Charlotte and Atlanta.
But one game is not a trend and the series is much closer to being even than over. The Magic look not able to dump the ball down to Howard and have him kick it out for the hockey assist, they may be forced to play the pick-and-roll against Boston once again as they did last year.
Barnes’ back must have really affected him, which is all the more puzzling as to why Stan felt it necessary to send him after Allen on all those screens. It seemed obvious that Redick was much more effective against Allen than Barnes was. I can’t believe Redick was so effective. He seemed able to find open space when the rest of the Magic were stuck in neutral. It was almost as if Boston had a game plan for all the Magic player except for Redick.
Orlando seemed more cold from the field than stunned or shut down. This is the fear when the team is constructed with outside shooters, that the shooters will not retain their heat from previous battles. And with Howard not able to dominate down low against a pissed off Perkins and infuriating Rasheed, the Magic will struggle mightily if they cannot find the range from outside.
Besides that, the Magic have more room for improvement than Boston does. Vince Carter was effective, his first trip to the Conference Finals. Gortat was effective coming off the bench, if not more effective than Howard. The only explanation would have to be that Boston loses track of Gortat because they aren’t worried about him as much as they worry about Dwight.
However, they were more bad than good yesterday. Jameer was ineffective facing Rondo, who is proving his first team defensive selection worthy. Rashard Lewis couldn’t find his shot, but he played well on defense despite worries and continually rushed over to help on defense and block shots. Pietrus has lost his touch, hopefully only temporarily. Jason Williams played a standard game.
The Magic can and will make this a series. The difference between this series and previous ones are the Celtics are not afraid. They don’t fear Howard like Atlanta had to and Charlotte did. Still, Rondo and Allen had a lot of shots impacted by Howard in the lane, so there is always that.