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Friday, May 15, 2009

Celtics Crumble Down the Stretch, Magic Force Seventh Game

The Boston Celtics led by as many as 10 points and did not trail until the fourth quarter but they failed to score a point in the final 3:46 as the Orlando Magic won 83-75 to force a seventh game in Boston on Sunday. Dwight Howard apologized to Coach Stan Van Gundy for his ill advised public remarks and then he really made amends by posting his fifth career 20-20 playoff game, a 23 point, 22 rebound, three blocked shot performance. Howard said all the right things after the game, acknowledging that his job is to defend and rebound, not count how many times he touches the ball on offense. Rashard Lewis had 20 points and six rebounds; he has been very consistent this series, with a high game of 28 points and a low game of 17 points while gathering between five and 10 rebounds in each game. Rafer Alston and Mickael Pietrus each scored 11 points. The Magic have been able to get away with starting J.J. Redick at shooting guard in all six games even though Redick has averaged just 6.5 ppg on .298 shooting, including 12 points on 3-25 (.120) shooting in the past four games. I don't know if it is more amazing that Coach Van Gundy keeps putting Redick out there or that the Magic have reached a seventh game despite Redick's bricklaying; Ray Allen must be criticized heavily for not punishing Redick at the other end of the court: Redick is not the only primary defender on Allen (and Redick almost always has help when he is) but there is no getting around the fact that the future Hall of Famer's numbers in this series (11.5 ppg on .307 field goal shooting) are hardly better than Redick's and that is inexcusable. Since Allen exploded for 51 points in Boston's game six loss to Chicago he has only scored more than 20 points twice in seven games and has had three single digit outings, all of them coming against Orlando, bottoming out with his five points on 2-11 shooting in game six.

Paul Pierce is not playing nearly as badly as Allen but he has not exactly distinguished himself in this series, either, scoring only three points in 16 foul plagued minutes in game two. Pierce started out 3-10 from the field in game six, made three clutch shots in a row in the fourth quarter to briefly put Boston ahead 73-72 but then he did not score in the final 4:51 with the game up for grabs and he missed two crucial free throws during that stretch that could have given Boston a one point lead with 2:04 left. Pierce finished with 17 points, nine rebounds and five assists. Rajon Rondo led Boston in four different categories, posting 19 points, 16 rebounds, six assists and four steals. However, he shot 8-19 from the field and had five turnovers as the Magic trapped off of him whenever Pierce or Allen got the ball, putting the pressure on Rondo to make shots or make plays.

Game seven is usually death for the road team in the NBA and I expect the Celtics to win but the onus is on Allen to play much better and on Pierce to do a little bit more than he did in game six and to not disappear in the final moments if the game is close. The Magic survived game six despite shooting just .366 from the field and .231 from three point range; obviously, those numbers will not get the job done in game seven on the road. Orlando got away with shooting so poorly because the Celtics committed 19 turnovers, resulting in extra possessions for the Magic, but the Magic have to expect that Boston will be more careful with the ball and shoot a better percentage at home. Coach Van Gundy probably does not want to change his starting lineup going into game seven but if Redick continues to be unproductive then Van Gundy will have to give him the quick hook in favor of the more athletic Pietrus or Courtney Lee, who had been the starter until an inadvertent Howard elbow broke a bone in his face.

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posted by David Friedman @ 3:53 AM

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