Friday, May 8, 2009

The Team That Can't Close Keeps Closing

Tonight in Orlando, the Magic took the series lead behind the two players that turned the Sixers series for them -- Hero Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis -- and the home team overcame the one-game suspension loss of Rafer Alston to thump the Celtics. Dwight Howard had 17 and 14 with 5 blocks in just 28 foul-plagued minutes, and the team actually increased the lead with him on the bench. They even got 11 points from Phantom of the Opera Courtney Lee, and held Ray Allen to 3 of 13, and Paul Pierce to 6 of 15. Your final was Magic 117, Celtics 96, and that's about how close it was.

Frankly, this series is starting to resemble Hawks-Heat, in that both teams can't seem to show up for the same game. And the final score could have been even worse if it weren't for another hot night from Eddie House, who went 6 of 7 from the floor and had 15 points in 19 minutes.

But if you really want to know what's going on here, it's simple -- the Celtics don't have the legs, and maybe at this point the heart, to play good defense every night. The Magic shot 60% from the floor tonight, and 50% from the arc. It also didn't help much that their bigs (Perkins, Davis, Scalabrine) combined for 14 fouls in 81 minutes.

There's also this: the Magic are said to have a big problem late in games, because they get scared to give the ball to Dwight Howard, for fear that he'll miss too many free throws. But this really doesn't work, because while Howard is a bad free throw shooter, he's not utterly helpless: he'll make 6 of 10, which is only a point or two worse for every ten shots than most of the other big men in the league. If you play Hack-A-Dwight, you're going to lose; that strategy really only works, if it works at all, if the shooter is sub-.500, especially late. If the Celtics want to win games here, they'll need to ramp up the defense and stop running up big deficits.

I still expect the Celtics to prevail in a long series; no matter how bad you look, one loss is one loss, and Allen and Pierce aren't likely to be MIA for two straight games. But at this point, the series has had 154 minutes, and the Magic might have been the better team on the floor for over 100 of them. If the Magic win Game 4, they will win this series.

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