The Boston Celtics defeated the Orlando Magic 109-106 on Monday night to improve to 31-9 on the season and 19-3 at home. They have now won three games in a row and sit atop the Eastern Conference, above the Miami Heat by two games.
Kevin Garnett made his first appearance after missing nine games with a strained calf muscle. He barely missed a beat, as he played 31 minutes, scored 19 points on 7-13 shooting, hauled in eight boards, dished two assists, and even grabbed two steals.
Garnett was his old "energizer bunny" self, providing the energy and source of inspiration for the Celtics on both ends of the floor. With just 0:15 left in regulation and the Celtics leading 107-104, KG jumped the passing lane and registered the steal from Jameer Nelson. He then found Ray Allen on the pass, who was fouled and swished the two clinching free throws.
Ray Allen had quite a nice game himself. He led all Celtics with 26 points on 8-11 shooting. 13 of his 26 came in the fourth quarter, including two huge three's with 4:24 and 2:14 left to go.
With the three 3-pointers made tonight, Allen is just 27 makes away from tying Reggie Miller for the all time lead in NBA history. It also happened that Miller was on hand to provide color analysis for TNT. In all likelihood, Allen will break the record some time in early-mid February.
The two remain the only members of the 2,000+ club, as they each have over 2500 career makes. Jason Kidd has the next highest total (1724).
Do the Celtics have the best team in the East?
Other game notes:
- Despite holding the Magic to just 34-74 (45.9%) shooting, the Magic still dropped 106 points on one of the league's best defenses. I'm thinking it had something to do with the fact that the Magic shot 11-27 (40.7%) from three.
- Doc Rivers continues to be one of the only coaches who'll play Dwight Howard (or any other elite NBA player for that matter), 1 on 1. Howard responded with 33 points and 13 rebounds (five offensive), although he blocked no shots and was a minus 6, the lowest plus/minus of any Magic player.
- Rajon Rondo quietly dictated the pace of the game virtually all night. He had 13 assists, 10 points (5-6), four rebounds, and three steals. Rondo made the only two jumpers he took, a twenty-one footer and an eighteen-footer, both in the first quarter. He continues to exhibit an improving albeit scarce jump shot.
- Shaq again had problems staying on the floor, although the creativity of the officials was much to blame for that. He committed five personals, and played just 26 minutes. They ought to change his nickname to "The Big Target."
- Glen Davis played solidly off the bench. He had 15 points on 6-10 shooting with four total rebounds (two offensive). He plays a much better all-around game when he can come off the bench for 25-30 minutes (he played 31 tonight).
- All in all, the Celtics-Magic matchup could very well be a preview of the Eastern Conference finals. Records aside, I think these are the best and deepest teams in the East as currently constituted (and healthy).
- Next up for the Celtics is a January 19th showdown at home against the Detroit Pistons. The C's will be looking for a little revenge as the Pistons handed them a 104-92 road loss back on December 29.
Some good news, some bad on the injury front:
- Yesterday, the Celtics starting five appeared together for the first time on a basketball court in any variation. Kendrick Perkins participated in full-contact practice for the first time since offseason knee surgery. He has set a February 4 return date goal.
- Delonte West, who underwent surgery to repair a right wrist fracture, is currently wearing an air-cast and is expected to begin basketball-related activities soon. He is expected back after the All-Star break.
- Jermaine O'Neal, who has already missed 22 games with a knee injury this season, is debating whether or not to have surgery. A decision is expected as soon as Tuesday. No word on the severity of the injury, or the designated time-table for return if he was to undergo surgery.