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Rob Peterson

Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

Celtics making habit of putting roadblocks in their own way

By Rob Peterson,
Posted May 5 2009 7:31AM

BOSTON -- Ray Allen knows what it feels like to hit a huge 3-pointer in the Playoffs. He knows what it can do for his team and he knows what it does to a foe.

So with his Celtics down four less than 90 seconds left in the fourth quarter against the Magic, Allen found himself with his feet set behind the 3-point line, the ball in his hands and his shoulders square to the hoop. Much to the delight of the TD Banknorth Garden crowd, Allen let it fly. And Allen knew it was good.

Until it wasn't -- Allen's potentially roof-raising 3-pointer rattled around the rim and out, into the waiting hands of the Magic.

It looked good. It felt good. But like most of what happened to the Celtics in Game 1, it wasn't good enough. Throughout these Playoffs, the Celtics seemingly can't resist adding more obstacles in defense of their NBA title.

In the first round against the Chicago Bulls, those obstacles manifested themselves in overtime periods. In the first game against the Magic, the Celtics finally found a precipice from which they couldn't recover -- a third-quarter, 28-point deficit.

The Magic needed every inch of that cushion on Monday as they held back a furious Celtics charge to take Game 1 in this Eastern Conference semifinal 95-90 and take home-court advantage in the process.

Magic coach Stan Van Gundy, who saw his team almost gag away that 28-point lead in the game's final 16 minutes, tried to keep the events of Game 1 in perspective.

"I think the biggest positive in this league," Van Gundy said, "is any time you get a great opportunity to learn and get better ... without losing.

"As bad as the last 16 minutes felt, we come out winning Game 1."

That they did, and the Magic have every right to feel good about going up 1-0 this series. A win is a win, right, Dwight Howard?

"We won the game and a lot of positives came out tonight," Howard said. "We see what we need to do in order for us to win the next game and to win this series."

What the Magic can do is take the first half of this game and frame it because it was picture perfect on both ends of the floor.

On offense, they broke down the Celtics' sluggish defense and got into the lane at will, scoring 30 points in the paint. When they found the route to the rim impeded, they took a detour by whipping the ball around the outside and finding the open man. Orlando had 14 assists on 22 made shots.

On defense, Howard was his usual intimidating self, blocking two shots and altering countless others. The Magic applied great pressure on the perimeter and forced eight Celtics turnovers, which led to 12 Orlando points. Allen always had a Magic player on his hip and a Magic big man in his face when he tried to shoot.

Whatever the Magic did in that half, they did it well.

"We had it rolling early with the three ball as well as me going to the basket," Orlando forward Rashard Lewis said.

The Celtics, meanwhile, looked as if they were just rolling over, especially when the Magic went on a 26-6 run to close out the second quarter. Sloppy with their passes on offense and soft on defense, the Celtics' start to Game 1 against Orlando felt eerily similar to their start in Game 1 against Chicago.

That series went seven games and featured seven overtime periods. Celtics coach Doc Rivers wouldn't use that epic series as an excuse for their careless start to this one.

"There was no fatigue," Rivers said. "I don't believe in that. We had a whole day off; we're not making any excuses. There was no fatigue. We played flat, we played with no energy in the first half, but it wasn't the fatigue factor."

Considering the Celtics almost climbed out of a 28-point hole, Van Gundy also cried foul on this line of thinking.

"They did not look like, in the last 16 minutes, that there was much fatigue on their part," Van Gundy said.

No, the Celtics looked as spry as ever in the last half of the third and all of the fourth. Led by Rajon Rondo and reserve Brian Scalabrine, the Celtics stepped up the pressure on defense. Orlando's ball movement stopped and so did its forays into the paint.

"We just applied pressure defensively," Rivers said. "We got up into them. We played desperate ... like we should have done all game."

Part of that desperation stemmed from the fact the Celtics never made it to the free throw line in the first half. In the second half, the Celtics made time stand still. Thanks to an increased aggressiveness by Rondo, the Celtics went to the stripe 26 times as they were able to chip away at the Magic lead

"I called him over and said, 'Rondo, you're not playing with speed,'" Rivers said. "And I thought after that his speed became a factor. It's tough to make a floater when you're walking."

By the time Allen had his best look at a 3-pointer all night, the Celtics were hardly walking. They had the Magic on their heels and it looked as if the Celtics could be sprinting toward an improbable victory. But Allen's shot and a win weren't meant to be.

"For me, I don't think I ever got great rhythm shots tonight," Allen said. "But still every shot, with the exception of a couple shots I had to take with the shot clock running down, every shot I took had a good chance of going in.

"It was one of those nights, it went in and out. Sometimes we're at the mercy of the bounce."

And the Celtics know they need a little more bounce in their step at the beginning of games to make sure they don't find themselves in a Game 1-sized hole.

Still, if this game proved anything, the Celtics won't go down easy and this series could be as much of a dogfight as the Boston's previous one.

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