The Celtics came into tonight needing a "feel-good" win after the embarrassing loss to Philadelphia one day after finally making their second trip to the playoffs in as many years official.  The Magic were ripe to be beaten.  They were on the second night of a back-to-back, and the C's had rested up for a couple of days in the Florida sun.  Things were even going well enough that Tony Battie was not scheduled to play, the Coach figuring he could go the distance with the rest of the team.

Not that it wasn't an important game.  The C's held the 6th spot in the East, and only the night before, Orlando had clinched with the 7th.  There was only 1/2 game between them, with the C's holding the tiebreaker.  But it would be nice, everyone in Boston agreed, to nail down this one.

I must say "BLEAH" to NBAtv.com, as the only reason I saw this game was I got the local feed.

BLEAH!!!

Bleah to David Stern, too.

First Quarter:

The Magic won the tipoff, and Tracy McGrady went right to work on the hoop, only to have it negated by an offensive foul from former Celtic Andrew DeClerq.  Pierce back-rimmed a three, but the C's picked up a rebound, allowing Walker to launch a three.  The Magic took that rebound, and MacGrady promptly showed how to shoot the three, giving the Magic a 3-0 lead.

Antoine Walker keeps trying to use that weird hook shot.  It went in, but it was ugly.  At least it beats launching bad perimeter jumpers.  DeClerq went to the bench after a dumb second foul against Pierce near halfcourt.  Orlando was relying on outside jumpers early on.  Lucky for them, so was Boston.  Through the first part of the quarter, neither team was scoring well.  In Battie's absense, Mark Blount worked the glass, to good effect.  He may be a positive influence on the rebound-challenged Celtics.

From the start, it was a physical game, and a good idea of what to expect in the playoffs.  Pierce was
doubled if he even looked at the ball, and failed to score from the field, though he did take a few trips to the line, as usual.  I liked the C's effort on the glass as the game opened, showing they understood what the playoffs would bring.  But there were still some bad defensive lapses that allowed Orlando to get too many easy shots.  McGrady was shouldering the burden of the scoring before the C's wised up and did unto him what the NBA has been doing to Pierce all year.  Neither team was doing well from the arc, as Boston was 0-3 and the Magic had only tried one.  When a timeout was called with 5:32 left in the quarter, the score was 15-11, Orlando leading.

Following the timeout, Boston started to heat up offensively, even as the Magic cooled off.  A lot of that was due to better defense against McGrady.  Pierce then picked up his second foul and sat in favor of Kedrick Brown.  I was pleased to see the Good Guys running more, but they're still getting beat back by the defense.  Bremer came into the game, and showed that coming off the bench was a very good idea.  He seems to be playing better, though I wish they'd encourage him to go inside more.  Waltah made himself more lovable by hitting a nice short jumper.  Bremer seems to have the makings of a point guard, if only the C's would go inside more.  He can make the nice inside pass, as he did to Eric Williams for an easy two.  Another timeout was called with 1:58 left and the score tied at 24.  After that, the teams traded deep misses as the clock wound down.  Kedrick smartly moved inside the arc and drilled a jumper.  The quarter ended with the Celtics leading, 28-24.
 

Second Quarter:

Bremer opened up the quarter draining a shot clock jumper.  I know the C's CAN pass, I just get tired
of them dribbling up the floor instead of looking for the outlet pass. They need to start beating
defenses instead of trying to work around them every time.  The Magic kept being careless with the ball, but the C's never took full advantage of that.  Pierce continued to get mugged every time he got near the ball, and spent a lot of time at the line as a result.  He tried to do more passing out, but the Magic defense was alert for that most of the time.  Blount showed he can elevate as he had a nice rejection that was called goaltending--I thought it was very close, though.  Timeout was called with 8:57 left, and the Celtics ahead, 32-28.

After the timeout, Burke kept making a pest of himself, enough so that the C's needed to pay more
attention to him.  Then a careless pass by Grant Long led to Darrell Armstrong getting a mighty dunk to tie the game at 32 as Jim O'Brien called a timeout to explain the notion of passing the ball to someone on OUR team.

Then after the timeout, Pierce came up limping after crashing to the floor, causing the C's to call time.  It looked like he came down wrong on his ankle via Shawn Kemp's foot, though thankfully, he did return to the court after a brief rest.  In the meantime, Walker did drive to the hoop, to no avail, as the Magic took the rebound and scored at the other end.  Eric Williams also drove to the hoop, and went to the line for his trouble.  I do wish the C's would learn to finish those shots, so they'd be shooting one at the line instead of two.  Kedrick showed he could also go to the glass, which is a relief.  He does need to play more, though barring injury, I think it'll be next season before that happens.

The Magic announcers pointed out--correctly--that Eric Williams still throws his left arm out too much on fouls.  Sooner or later, he's going to get called for a flagrant.  He needs to learn to keep the arm in more.  Lucky for Boston, the Magic started settling for bad outside jumpers.  That let the C's stay with them.  Even McGrady went cold.  With exactly 4 minutes left in the half, the score was tied at 38 and the Magic starters were back on the court.  Doc Rivers was definitely anxious not to let this game slip away, and knew that it was unlikely that they'd keep Pierce away from the hoop all night.  The Celtics had shot poorly from the field in the quarter, with only the trips to the line by Boston and questionable shot selection by Orlando keeping the game close.

But the C's still look tired, as Walker made a beauty of a pass to Pierce, who was right under the basket for a "gimme".  Pierce couldn't make a clean catch, and ended having to make a tough pass to Waltah for a three that missed.  The C's seemed determined through the game to keep Waltah parked in the corner and shooting threes.  If they go in, not a bad idea.  They weren't going in much tonight.  There's also a glaring problem with the C's defense.  They're really crowding the strong side, gambling they can keep the ball on that side of the court.  The problem is, if the ball makes it to the other side, the guy is often wide open for an easy shot.  The C's just aren't always moving fast enough to make this idea work.

One again, Walker tried to pass it inside, but the C's offense is moving so slowly *I* could have
intercepted the pass.  Needless to say, the Magic did.  If the Celtics would just move out of first gear, they could be posting double digit wins regularly.  Conversely, the Magic keep expecting McGrady to do it all, often standing around as much as the C's do when Walker and/or Pierce have the ball.  Mark Blount continued to play solid defense.  If they encourage that, Tony Battie might get some rest for that knee.  As the last minute wound down, the C's made a run at the Magic, but the Magic were able to hold on for the last possession as time ran out in the half with Orlando leading it, 46-40.

HALFTIME

Cookie Break!!

So far, this was an exciting game, and exactly what the Celtics needed.  It's a given in the playoffs that Pierce will be the focus of the defense.  It was gratifying to see Pierce--and, for that matter,
Walker--take it in stride and not complain unduly to or about the officials.  I saw glimmers of the kind of defense the C's will need to play, though it was plain they missed Battie loitering under the hoop.

On the bad side, there were some defensive lapses, some of which have been there all season long.  The C's still do not run as well or as often as they need to, and the concept of the outlet pass still seems alien to them.  I was nervous about the third quarter, as the Good Guys simply cannot afford to keep going extended minutes without scoring.  A 12 point second quarter does not instill confidence.  But if the effort is there, I think the C's showed signs of being not only able to win this game, but of getting on a positive roll headed into the playoffs.

Stats-wise through the half, the C's had gone 13-34 from the field for 38.2%, while Orlando was 17-42 and 40.5%.  The C's had a slight edge in free throws, 11-15 vs. 9-10 for the Magic; and the threes were about even, 3-12 for Boston, 3-10 for Orlando.  The Magic, mostly McGrady, had a 26-10 edge in paint points.  Mostly, the C's needed to work on their shot selection and tighten up the defense.  Pierce had been totally absent from field scoring in the first half.  That had to change, fast.

Cookie Break!!

Third Quarter:

The C's crashed the boards, but to no avail as the quarter opened.  The Magic repeated history as
McGrady's first basket was disallowed due to a foul by DeClerq.  Wow, a timewarp!!  The Magic were beginning to pick up loose balls for rebounds, a troubling sign.  But they keept taking bad jumpers.

Mark Blount showed good speed and strength, nearly rejecting DeClerq on a dunk.  If he had a little help under the hoop, the C's wouldn't be so worried about rebounds.  At first, the Magic were extending their lead, but Mark Blount made a nice fake and then dumped in a shot for two, even going to the line and making the free throw (YAY!!).  DeClerq then picked up his 4th, and sat once more.  I was glad, as he'd done some damage to Boston the last couple of times they played.  Pierce started a Celtics run, prompting a timeout by Orlando with 8:42 left and the Magic lead down to 49-47.

After the timeout, McGrady kept himself scoreless with bad jumpers as Pierce hit for consecutive
hoops.  The C's had eradicated the Magic lead to tie it up at 49 with 7:35 to go in the third.  Waltah
kept Garrity from opening it up, which as a relief to Celtics fans.  Pierce made it three in a row to give the Good Guys the lead.  The Celtics kept getting good calls from the officials, who knows why, and tried like the dickens to make it count.  Then Walker nailed a three to cap a 12-0 run as Orlando called timeout with 6:16 left.

When play was back in, there was a problem with the shot clock and the game clock.  The Celtics took it inbounds with 6:14 to go.  The game clock froze at 6:07 and the shot clock at 17 seconds, as play
continued, by my count, until it should have read 5:50.  The C's never got a shot off, and normally, it
would have been a shot clock violation by Boston, as the Magic played solid defense.  It took a few
minutes to fix it, and the C's ended up keeping the ball and they simply started where the clock had been frozen, with 6:07 and 17 on the shot clock, as the score hadn't changed during the freeze. Sadly, the C's turned it over.  Sigh.  The Magic seemed to wise up on their shooting, as they went to the hoop, which produced points and prompted a timeout with 5:31 left and the Celtics lead down to 54-53.

Pierce then kicked the ball out to Waltah for three, which would no doubt encourage them to keep
Waltah out there.  Williams then made a nice save to keep possession for Boston.  Then, the Celtics
leisurely pace caught up with them as they got nailed for an 8 second count at halfcourt.  The Magic then started going inside more often, as the C's did not adjust.  Then the C's started to falter a bit as the Magic started scooping rebounds and getting more second shots.  The C's tried going inside, but Pat Burke stopped Walta's shot at the side of the lane.

Pierce got a break, as he tripped over Waltah's foot, but the refs called the foul on Orlando.  The
replay clearly showed the Magic were not responsible.  Pierce went to the line and made good.  Kedrick Brown then intercepted Armstrong's slow pass, but Pierce's shot clock three didn't go. The last minute played close as both teams hustled, but the C's were called for an offensive foul, giving Pierce his 4th.  Orlando played for the last shot, making it on Pat Garrity's three somehow getting past Waltah's defense.  The quarter ended with Orlando leading it 65-63.

I was relieved that the Celtics had scored 23 points in the quarter, though nervous that the Magic
seemed to have abandoned their outside jumper in favor of going into the hoop.  That made them VERY dangerous.  I hoped the Celtic defense was up to the job ahead of them.

Fourth Quarter:

The quarter began about as well as I could wish for, as Pierce ripped down a rebound at one end, and the Celtics passed the ball crisply to get Williams open under the hoop for an easy two.  But the Magic were also passing well, starting to look for the open man.  I noticed that Bremer was alert for that pass to the corner man and defended it well early in the quarter.  Unfortunately, the C's kept coughing up the ball, and the Celtics need to work on that if they want to go anywhere in the playoffs.

The teams played with energy, and Boston was making a lead.  I noticed a bad habit that Walker has
lately.  When he gets a defensive rebound, he tucks the ball into his tummy and wraps both arms around it, swiveling his upper body around to turn his elbows into offensive weapons.  Yes, it protects the ball and the rebound, but there's no chance of an outlet pass bneing made.  In some ways, I think they've become a little paranoid with the steals by other teams of late.  But they built a 10-1 run and had a lead of 73-66 with 8:24 left.  I was starting to feel pretty good about this game.

I noticed that Bremer tried to run a fast break, but when his path was blocked, he had no one to pass to until the rest of the team caught up with him.  Pierce bailed him ut with a three.  Then Walker blocked a shot, and the C's moved the ball well, though now THEY were settling for the jumper.  Pierce was the only one now going inside and the entire Magic team was with him.  Orlando began to make a run of their own with 6:40 left and the score now 75-68.

I noticed the C's seemed to be willing to trust Bremer to run point, at least occasionally.  I hope it
works, as it would free up Walker to go inside.  If he and Pierce could do that together, other defensive coaches would be working on ulcers throughout the playoffs.  Unfortunately, the Magic were now closing the gap once more.  Waltah scored a hoop to prompt a Magic timeout with the score now 79-71, Boston leading.

But Pierce was now playing with 5 fouls, and I wondered how good his defense could possibly be in the face of that.  The Magic defense was now ratcheted up a notch and McGrady found the hoop again.  But even now, I felt the Celtics could win this if they played smart, but McGrady took over the scoring over the next few possessions and with 4:15 left, the score was 79-78, as Boston's lead was down to one point.

The C's turned the ball over after the timeout, and McGrady blew past the C's defense when Waltah
was left all alone in the lane against the speeding T-Mac.  Pierce made a basket to restore the C's lead and took down the rebound on the Magic miss, leading to a Tony Delk three.  With 2;35 left, the C's led 84-80.

Eric Williams took an Orlando airball, but Walker's three bounced out.  Then Vaughn took a nice pass
for an easy two.  Then with 1:45 left, Pierce tried to drive from the three point line and turn the corner toward the hoop.  He stumbled, and was triple teamed as he tried to get out of the corner back toward halfcourt.  He managed to get out and move toward the lane, dragging over half the Magic team with him as he looked for someone to pass to.  He tried to feed Williams, who was driving toward the hoop, but he couldn't catch it, only managing to slap it back inbounds toward Tony Delk in the corner as he fell.  Delk barely kept the ball from dribbling out of bounds and had to hoist it up with 5 seconds left on the shot clock.  The ball bounced off the front of the rim, and into the hands of Pierce, who was now at the top of the key.  Pierce fiddled and diddled at the three point arc, then drove straight to the hoop for the slam.  That made it 86-82 with 1:16 left in the game.

After a timeout, McGrady fed Declerq for an easy two underneath the hoop to cut Boston's lead to two points.  Pierce tried another drive to the hoop, but the Magic were ready for him this time and one triple-team later, had control of the ball with 44 seconds left.  Gordon Giricek was left all alone in the corner and Waltah didn't stand a chance of stopping his three from going in. With 33.2 seconds left, the Magic now led it, 87-86.

The Celtics took the ball in after a timeout, and Pierce got a good look, but it didn't go in.  With 26.7
seconds left, Boston retained possession and got it to Pierce, who got an even better look that didn't go.  Pierce rebounded his miss, and put it back up, but that didn't go either. Those were great looks, right under the hoop, and at least ONE of them should have gone in.  The ball went out of bounds off Boston with 14.9 seconds left.

The Magic took the ball out of bounds at halfcourt and Jaque Vaughn was sent to the free throw line
with 12.2 seconds left.  He made both, and the score was 89-86 as Boston called it's final timeout.

Pierce passed the ball inbounds, and got it to Walker.  Antoine Weaved it back to pierce, who got an
open look at a three, which back rimmed.  Waltah ran down the rebound and saved it back to Walker,
who was fouled with 2.3 seconds left (Orlando had one to give, and barely made it before he launched the three).

Once more, Pierce sent the ball inbound to Walker, who launched with a defender literally hanging over him. The shot never reached the rim, and time expired as the Magic won the game, 89-86.

This was a game the C's should have won.  It was the little things that killed them.  Not keeping up their defense of McGrady, not shooting at all well in the second and fourth quarters, and lots of little lapses of similar nature.  The Celtics need to move faster on both ends of the court and if they're going to play defense, then they need to commit as fully as they did last season.

I liked some of what Bremer did defensively, I wish the rest of the team would follow suit.  Blount was pretty good while he was there.  Kedrick got some quality minutes, but without team rebounding, there's not much he can do.

With this loss, the C's and the Magic are tied for 6th in the East, though the Good Guys hold the
tiebreaker.  What worries me is that the Celtics still have two games left, the first tomorrow night
against the Miami Heat, and the last on Wednesday against Detroit.  They could still fall, if they don't pay attention and start doing instead of talking.

And that's the view from the doghouse.