By Rob Peterson, NBA.com
Posted May 7 2009 9:19AM
BOSTON -- After the Orlando Magic made them seem invisible in Game 1, the Celtics' guards reappeared faster and more furious in Game 2.
With Ray Allen's early aggressiveness, Rajon Rondo's speed and versatility and Eddie House's incredibly hot hand, Boston's backcourt sliced, diced, minced and chopped the Magic into tiny bits over the course of a 112-94 win in Game 2. The teams head to Orlando for Game 3 on Friday (7 p.m. ET, ESPN) tied at 1-1 in their Eastern Conference semifinals series.
"That was not one of the more enjoyable days of my coaching career," Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. "They dominated from the get-go."
Van Gundy, however, said those words with a slight smile on his face. He was by no means happy ("Very happy is not even something that I think I've ever felt -- not in terms of coaching," he would later say), but Van Gundy is a basketball purist. On Wednesday, what he and 19,000 other souls at TD Banknorth Garden saw from Boston's guards was as close to hoops heaven as you can get.
Rondo, Allen and House combined for 68 of Boston's 112 points, hit 25 of the Celtics' 41 field goals and dished 24 of their 34 assists. And they did it without much help from Paul Pierce, who played a mere 15:42 because of foul trouble. Instead of it hurting them, Celtics coach Doc Rivers said his team turned Pierce's absence into an advantage when they used that three-guard lineup to turn up the speed.
"We thought the movement, especially with Eddie and Ray being able to come off picks and stretch the floor, [not only] would give a chance for those two to get shots, but it also would open the floor for Rondo," Rivers said.
"We didn't think we were going to use it that long, but with Paul in foul trouble we had no choice."
After a Game 1 where Allen and Rondo combined to shoot 4-for-24, the Celtics had no choice but to get their starting backcourt going. It was either that or face the very real possibility of a 2-0 series deficit.
Despite that prospect, Rondo surprised many veteran observers by sitting and chatting amiably with the media before the game. Dressed in a sharp suit, Rondo was as open as the collar on his shirt as he talked about getting booed at Kentucky, staying positive even though his shots weren't falling and about triple-doubles.
And as relaxed as Rondo seemed before the game, he was that aggressive in it.
"He was in attack mode," Rivers said. "His speed was a factor. We talk about it all the time. Hell, we've been talking about it for three years, really. There's no guarantee that anybody's going to play well or not, but there is a guarantee that you give yourself a chance when you play with what you do.
"And today, Rondo played with his speed. I mean, that's what he is. And when he plays with his speed, good things happen."
Rondo's speed made Boston's ball movement spectacular throughout the game. They had 22 assists on 25 field goals in the first half and finished with 34 dimes on 41 made buckets. Only once did the offense bog down and that was after halftime when the Celtics forgot what gave them a 61-45 lead at the break.
After seeing too much one-on-one play in the first four minutes in the second half, Rivers didn't call a timeout, but he made a rotation motion with his arm and held up two fingers.
"Yeah, we needed to make a second pass," Rivers said. "We went back to the wait and hold the ball and get the last shot. [Signaling two] means two picks, two passes."
Orlando would whittle the lead to 13 shortly thereafter, but the Celtics heeded Rivers' instructions and the Magic would get no closer.
Meanwhile Rondo went to work on the soft underbelly of the Magic's defense. With 15 points, 11 rebounds and 18 assists, Rondo notched his third triple-double of the post-season and did so in the most emphatic fashion. In a play that will get plenty of airtime on highlight shows and plenty of burn on the internet, Rondo sped through the lane and took off like, well, Superman, and flushed home a thunderous dunk as Orlando's Dwight Howard and Rashard Lewis stood flat-footed.
"I was tired of Dwight challenging my shots," Rondo said, "and I was struggling with my floater so I just wanted to take it to the basket pretty strong."
The triple-double also put Rondo into select company. Only Celtics Hall-of-Famer Larry Bird had as many in one postseason when he recorded three triple-doubles in 1986, one in the East finals against Milwaukee and two in The Finals against Houston. And with Rondo playing as well as he is -- he's averaging 18.3 points, 9.6 rebounds and 11.9 assists in nine Playoffs games -- Bird's mark won't be safe.
Rondo recorded many of his 18 assists to House, who notched a career-postseason high 31 points on 11-of-14 shooting. House was spectacular from everywhere on the floor. He even worked his way inside for a couple layups.
"I've been working with Eddie," Rondo joked when asked about House's runs to the rack. "Nah, anytime I make a three, he gets on me and anytime he makes a layup, I joke with him. It's great to see him attack the basket tonight."
Not only did House get to the hoop, but he got under the Magic's skin, specifically Rafer Alston. After making a jumper late in the third quarter, House nudged Alston on his way up the court. Alston took exception, reached out and whacked House on the back of the head. It was pretty much the only fight the Magic put up all night.
Both players were assessed a technical, but we'll see if the man known as Skip to My Lou will need to skip Game 3 if the league chooses to give him a one-game suspension for striking House.
"Eddie made the shot," Alston recalled. "I'm standing out-of-bounds letting him run by, he runs by, shoots an elbow at me. It was just a natural reaction. You know, I tried to grab him before he ran back down the court.
"I have no hard feelings toward Eddie. I have a lot of respect for him."
After House's performance on Wednesday, it's hard not to respect him. Still, the Magic can ill-afford to be down a guard in Game 3. They're already without Courtney Lee, who may or may not return from sinus surgery on Friday.
One thing is for sure, though. The Magic will need to play with more intensity in Game 3 than they did in Game 2. Still, they leave Boston with the series tied.
"I think you have to be happy at 1-1," Van Gundy said. "But I think there are some big adjustments we have to make. We have to rise to the intensity level that they've had over the last game-and-a-half."
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