The Orlando Magic had a score to settle. Two games ago, against Boston, they scored a franchise low 56 points. In their chance to make amends the Magic got off to a terrific start and had as many points by halftime than they did in that dreadful previous matchup with the Celtics. The Magic had as large as a 27-point lead Thursday night, but Paul Pierce came alive and the Celtics used a huge run that encompassed parts of the third and fourth to punch Orlando in the stomach, take their lunch money, and hand down a stunning 91-83 decision over the Magic.
The Magic were a big balloon that slowly leaked the air out of their lead and the Celtics happily capitalized on every single opportunity provided. Turnovers, blocked layups, airballs, technical fouls -- anything the Magic could do to prevent themselves from winning, they looked obligated to follow through. Missed free throws, not enough attempts for Dwight Howard, rotten decisions with the ball coming out of timeouts --- the Magic had it all. It all added up to a 37-10 Celtics run over the span of 11 game minutes, the loss of the lead and, ultimately, the game.
Pierce was terrific, making shot after shot early in the run after a poor first half. Pierce's proficiency eventually drew the Magic's help defense, allowing open looks for Brandon Bass and E`Twaun Moore, who combined for 20 second half points. As the Celtics started to take advantage, their defense gained confidence, forcing the Magic to hold, drive and defer, often leaving a shooter with very little clock left and a tough shot to take.
Howard did what he could do for Orlando, scoring 12 of his team-high 16 points in the second half, but the Magic were not dedicated to getting him the ball. Howard did contribute to the poor play with a couple of ill-advised close range bullet passes that became turnovers and a late game technical foul. But even with a lead evaporated and the team struggling to score, there wasn't the intense prioritization of getting Howard the ball deep, despite having good success when he did. Howard attempted six shots in the second half, and only one in the fourth quarter in which he participated fully.
There was no ‘a-ha' moment that pulled the Celtics through, just a consistent pounding of the drum throughout the second half, especially on the defensive end. They forced the Magic into three turnovers, two airballs and two blocked layup before Orlando made their first field goal of the second half after five minutes had elapsed. Making the Magic make mistakes made light work on the offensive end, especially after Pierce began his 19 point second half run to finish with 24 for the game.
Evan Dunlap laments the familiar Celtics sting and lauds the Boston defense at Orlando Pinstriped Post:
With Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen out once again--as they were Monday when Boston held Orlando to a franchise-low 56 points--Pierce had to shoulder its offensive load, and the veteran did so capably, dishing 10 assists in addition to his 24 points. But the game was less about what Boston accomplished offensively and more about what it accomplished on D. The intense pressure Avery Bradley put on Jameer Nelson for all 94 feet keyed Boston's second-half resurgence, as it prevented the Magic from getting into their offense and forced them to freelance a bit. The Magic can't create for themselves one-on-one with a waning shot clock, and the pressure left them scrambling just to put something, anything, up toward the rim.
For the winner's perspective, check out Celtics Blog.