Kevin Garnett had 22 points, but the Boston Celtics still saw their 14-game win streak snapped in Orlando on Christmas Day.
As a Jew, I don't have much to look forward to on this day. Almost everything is closed and all my friends are away or busy with family. But I'm thankful for the NBA for giving me something to look forward to on this day, a hoops fan's perfect day with five games in a row.
As an NBA fan, I'm satisfied. As a Celtics fan, I am not. The 86-78 loss to the Magic wasn't a great gift, but normally I'd be alright with losing to an elite team on the road. What made this game especially hard to watch was the fact the Celtics blew a lead when they were playing awful all day.
The Magic weren't too great either, but being practically a new team, they at least have the excuse of an adjustment period. On the other hand, the Celtics have a core who have been together for four years, a core that overcame odds to make the Finals last year mainly through chemistry.
Yet they lost to a team that had a week to develop chemistry.
So considering this was an awful performance blown late in the fourth quarter against a team that wasn't playing too great either, losing to an elite team on the road seems much more disappointing. Luckily, there are four months until the playoffs, and there is a lot the Celtics can learn in case they meet the Magic again when it truly matters.
Who is the best team in the Eastern Conference
The high point of this game? Dwight Howard only scored six points—one in the first three quarters. Not only that, but Howard finished with five personal fouls.
When the Magic started the game with an 11-0 run, it looked like Howard would have a field day against Shaquille O'Neal. Before O'Neal was taken out of the game, Howard truly seemed invincible, blocking one shot and forcing another turnover in the opening minutes.
It was clear that no one was going to dominate the inside against Howard. O'Neal can typically catch the ball or lay it up immediately. This was not the case against Howard, who's quickness made him the bully against the league's formerly most dominant bully.
But everything changed simply with the substitution of Glen Davis for O'Neal. Davis used his unique skill-set of toughness in the post to get Howard in foul trouble and his range to create open lay-ups.
After trailing by as much as 11, the Celtics finished the first quarter leading 20-19.
Yeah, but what about Bass?
Oh yeah, kind of forgot about him. Not really, but the front-court depth looked like the weakness after giving away Rashard Lewis and Marcin Gortat for...uh...Earl Clark in the front-court?
But Brandon Bass saved the day for Orlando. The undersized power forward came through with a team-high 21 points to go along with nine rebounds. Not too shabby when Howard and Kevin Garnett are dominating the boards. Bass also made five consecutive shots to turn the game around in the fourth quarter.
Bass can be inconsistent due to his sizing and dependence on shooting. But from here on out, he will play a bigger role with the Magic—and he must be accounted for. The all-around weirdness of his game can win the Magic games if he is ignored.
I'm not sure if the Magic can win with this front-court, but one thing is clear: Bass is a player to stick with.
Pierce vs. Turkoglu: Deja Vu
This is the same story Celtics and Magic fans are used to when Hedo Turkoglu has an Orlando uniform on. Pierce's athletic advantage makes him dominate on offense. Turkoglu's size advantage makes him dominant on offense.
At 6-10, Turkoglu, as the starting small forward, is two inches taller than starting power forward Bass. So it's difficult to decide how the Celtics should approach this defensive match-up. Clearly a zone won't work since there are too many good Magic shooters. Reversing Pierce's and Garnett's defensive assignments might now work either, since Howard will dominate the offensive boards even more if Garnett is playing the perimeter.
All Pierce can hope to do is be the better offensive player and not be a liability defensively. But the Magic won games in the 2008 Eastern Conference semi-finals when Turkoglu had his best games.
The Celtics should consider trading for a tall forward who is fast enough to guard Turkoglu.
New Back-court, New Problems
When Rajon Rondo is healthy, I think the Celtics back-court is better than the Magic's— but not deeper. Through the trades, the Magic sacrificed front-court depth for back-court depth.
The good news today was the Magic back-court wasn't very good. The bad news is that the Celtics back-court was even worse.
Ray Allen and Nate Robinson fit in with the Celtics. Allen can score 20 points and Robinson can outplay the opposing point guard, yet you won't even notice them. But their underperforming was certainly noticeable today.
It's a miracle that the Celtics led for most of the game when these two combined for a whopping 16 points. Not only that, but they weren't defended well either. They missed open shots left and right.
Rajon Rondo is clearly the MVP of this team. Let's hope for a smooth recovery.