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Orlando Magic-Boston Celtics Game Six: Celts Win Signals Return to the Old Guard

Erick BlascoSenior Writer IMay 29, 2010

BOSTON - MAY 28:  Ray Allen #20 of the Boston Celtics celebrates late in the fourth quarter against the Orlando Magic in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2010 NBA Playoffs at TD Garden on May 28, 2010 in Boston, Massachusetts.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

After a one-year hiatus, the Eastern Conference crown belongs to the old guard—The Boston Celtics. It’s only fitting, then, that their 96-84 Magic vanishing act was spurred by their backcourt.

Whereas the Magic turned the tide of the series with Jameer Nelson pushing the basketball before Boston’s defense could set itself, Boston regained its stranglehold because of Rajon Rondo’s own transition offense. Beating Orlando down court for layups, making no-look passes on the break, even draining a three-point jumper—by the time Rondo’s dust had settled, Orlando was down double figures.

To combat the staggered screens Orlando had presented Boston with great effect, the Celtics had the defender of the ball handler fight through the screens, the initial screen defender sag off to prevent a roll to the basket, and the second screen defender show as best as possible on the far side of the screen. This allowed the on-ball defender an extra split second to fight back to the ball handler.

While that was the tactical reason why Orlando’s staggered screen game sputtered, the inability of Jameer Nelson and Jason Williams to aggressively turn the corner was the real culprit. With Nelson playing more passively, the layups generated when he turned the corner off a screen, or the kick out threes created when he drove so deep Boston had to collapse disappeared. With them, so did the quality of Orlando’s looks.

Ray Allen burned the Magic because Vince Carter and J.J. Redick couldn’t stay attached to him around various off-ball screens. Allen would either find himself open for jump shots—6-13 FG, 3-7 3FG, 20 PTS—or Orlando would have to compensate by hedging the screen defender out high where Boston’s passes would be faster than Orlando’s subsequent rotations.

Meanwhile, aside from a brief flurry in the second quarter, Carter shied away from contact, missed layups, and underperformed when his team needed him—par for his course.

Paul Pierce simply shredded the too-thin Matt Barnes and Mickael Pietrus, and feasted on Carter’s lack of resistance. As a result, patented step back jumpers, powerful drives to the cup, and made looks from the sea-of-three sank the Magic’s ship—9-15 FG, 4-5 3FG, 9-10 FT. Pierce also displayed his competitive edge by grabbing 13 rebounds and his ability to execute with five assists against two turnovers. And his defense was superb throughout.

With the exception of when matched with LeBron James’ powerhouse defense in the second round, Pierce has demonstrated his greatness time and time again this postseason. He’s hit critical buzzer beaters to win playoff games, he’s made shots from near and far, and he’s always accepted the challenge of attacking deep in the heart of an opponent’s defense and coming out victorious.

While other players have received regular season accolades—James, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony—it’s Pierce that has stayed strong and true while other “great” wings have allowed themselves to be taken out of games.

Meanwhile, Matt Barnes and Mickael Pietrus accomplished nothing aside from a few garbage-time threes.

The Celtics received a boost from Nate Robinson, whose erratic, but potent offense came out on the plus side. With Orlando’s point men trained to sag off of Rondo, Robinson was awarded too much airspace by Nelson and Williams. He capitalized with 13 big points that helped blow the game open early.

While Robinson was making shots, Redick’s shooting abandoned him—2-7 FG, 1-4 3FG—and Jason Williams repeatedly made poor decisions with the ball.

In fact, the only area where Orlando had appreciable early success came from screen/rolls where the passer would lob the ball in the general vicinity of the rim and Dwight Howard would make a play with it. Howard bullied Kevin Garnett in individual matchups, and rolled hard after setting solid screens. However, he also missed six free throws—6-12 FT—and was out of position defensively on several screen/rolls that led to layups.

Rashard Lewis had some success when Kevin Garnett brainlessly hacked himself out of the game with early foul trouble, but he missed a pair of layups, and KG’s defensive range put the clamps on his shooting.

Rasheed Wallace was ineffective on offense, but played tough, iron defense, whereas Marcin Gortat played soft as tissue paper.

Each team got to the line 27 times, but the Celtics made 22 attempts while the Magic made 16. Each team attempted 22 attempts from downtown, mainly of similar quality, but the Celtics made 10 while the Magic made six. Orlando missed eight layups. Orlando lost the point guard battle they needed to win. Orlando lost the bench battle they needed to win. Orlando’s playmaking wing was destroyed by Boston’s playmaking wing.

All these add up to a playoff blowout.

For Orlando, they have to go back to the drawing board. Carter has proved time and again that he can’t hold up to the rigors of elite playoff competition and should be jettisoned for anyone. The Magic will need a more legitimate wing who plays tougher, is a better finisher, and isn’t a sieve defensively.

Orlando also needs an enforcer off the bench. Perhaps a year older and a year wiser, Brandon Bass could be that guy, but Marcin Gortat’s soft game was exposed by Boston’s rugged bench.

Add a backup point guard to the list of Orlando’s needs, and a creative backup off the bench who can create his own shot. With Pietrus closed out on hard, and without him enjoying an advantage in the post against the size and length of Boston’s wings, each of his two-dimensions were taken away. He needs to improve his handle and strength to become a prime-time backup.

As such, with Cleveland proving themselves pretender and not contender, Orlando has been overmatched in each of its playoff appearances against healthy, elite competition—this year’s Celtics and last year’s Lakers. Therefore, changes must be made.

Regardless of who comes out of the West, however, Boston has the strength, firepower, versatility, and execution to win the season’s final game, especially with Pierce performing like he did in 2008. All the bad regular season habits have been eliminated and the Celtics look every bit as dangerous as their 2008 title team.

The only question that remains. Will it be the Cinderella Phoenix Suns, or the ever-anticipated rematch with the L.A. Lakers?

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