What Have We Learned: Celtics Surprise Magic in Game One

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What Have We Learned: Celtics Surprise Magic in Game One
Doug Benc/Getty Images

A patient tells the doctor, "It hurts when I do this." The doctor says, "Then don't do that."

It's hard to open a speech or an article or an essay or any prepared work with a joke. And rule of thumb is that if it's a good joke, the rest of your work doesn't really matter. But if you fail, that will throw off the rest of your writing.

In this case, I felt it was necessary to begin with a bad joke that you've all heard before, but still holds relevance and importance, as it did today in Game One of the Eastern Conference Finals.

The 92-88 score doesn't tell the whole story, and neither do my lackluster articles. My recommended method is to watch the game and then read my lackluster articles. That would give you the whole story for this one.

Free Nelson

Not even Magic could beat a qualified paramedic today for Orlando. Jameer Nelson was dribbling circles around everyone. Unfortunately, he had no support during his outstanding ball-handling.

Nelson shot one for six in the first half, where the Magic only scored 32. But it wasn't his fault. His teammates were motionless on offense. The Celtics contained Dwight Howard while Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen kept guard on the perimeter.

It was a simple system for the Celtics, but it was a system that was working. Nobody was moving. Perhaps somebody had a good shooting stroke that day, but how would anyone know? They weren't getting open. This is why Nelson had to dance in circles.

Not So Fast

The Celtics are killing teams with fast breaks. Today, they outscored the Magic 20-4 in that department. It worked against the Cavaliers too, who looked sluggish at many times in the Eastern Conference Semi's.

It wasn't until the middle of the third quarter when the Magic heated up. The first time Stan Van Gundy sat down all game was when Nelson sank a three to bring the score to 43-40, the Magic's smallest deficit since the first quarter.

The Celtics should have stuck to their guns. They only scored 18 in the fourth quarter because the Magic's early problems were contagious. They were immobile and uncreative on offense late in the game.

Luckily, some magic was passed on to Pierce, who scored 22 off of eight shots. Pierce's best play in the fourth quarter came on a three pointer as the shot clock expired with Marcin Gortat's hand in his face.

The Celtics don't need to go fun-and-gun, but they need to find that delicate balance, and speed up the tempo when the Magic are trying to do the same. They have the experience, the intelligence, and the athleticism to do so without making mistakes.

The Round Mounds of Hounds

The Celtics had a simple but effective method to guarding Howard. Hound him.

He was at least double-teamed and sometimes triple-teamed. When he was triple-teamed, it was similar to a run-down of a base-runner. Two men stayed on Howard, while one rotated on whoever stood at mid-range. When Howard got the ball, there would be three men on him. When he passed it out, the process repeated.

Generally, Kendrick Perkins stayed on Howard while the other two defenders took turns rotating. Or Perkins' role would be played by Kevin Garnett or Rasheed Wallace, depending on who was on the floor.

Howard was held to 13 points. That includes his 12 free throw attempts. Howard still had 12 rebounds, and the Magic held the rebounding advantage, 45-38.

The Celtics have greater front-court depth. Only Howard, Matt Barnes, and Rashard Lewis average over four rebounds per game. Obviously Howard is the best rebounder in the series (and in the NBA). But he can be contained with greater attention to the post.

The Magic win through the perimeter though. So much attention is paid to Howard that the perimeter opens up. But if the Magic shoot like today in every game, they shouldn't expect to win a game this series.

So what have we learned?

The Magic are the superior team, during the regular season and the playoffs so far. Even when the Celtics out-played them for the majority of the game, they only won by four.

The Celtics need to stick to their game in the first half, for the entire game. For the rest of the series. Fast, unpredictable offense, smart ball distribution, and tough defense. Tough defense will be, well, tough if the Magic play to their potential. But their quick rotating defense seemed to work today.

Rondo also didn't play up to his incredibly high standards today. He scored four with four rebounds, eight assists, and one steal. He didn't contain Nelson too well. Rondo needs to guard the lanes more, forcing Nelson's inconsistent shot. He needs to be more of a floor general than he was today and quicken the offense.

The Magic are better on paper, but so were the Cavaliers. What's scary is that the Magic saw the doctor at half-time and stopped doing everything wrong, which the Cavaliers never did. The Celtics probably won't be using my advice, but I hope we all learned something from this unusual game.

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