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John Schuhmann

In previous meetings, Kendrick Perkins has been key in the Celtics' success against the Magic.
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Numbers give better look at Eastern Conference finals

Posted May 15 2010 10:21AM - Updated May 15 2010 6:27PM

This probably isn't the Eastern Conference finals matchup you were expecting, but the series between the Magic and Celtics, which gets started Sunday afternoon (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC) promises to be an intriguing one. Shaun Powell has already set you up well with a preview, but it's only right to go deeper inside the numbers before this series begins. Here are 10 statistical nuggets regarding the last two Finals representatives from the East ...

1. Orlando's dominance so far

Though it's kind of ridiculous to think that cruising through the first two rounds is a bad thing, it's certainly fair to compare the Magic's dominance thus far in the postseason to that of the Cavs a year ago. In fact, the Magic have actually been slightly better than the Cavs were through eight games last year, when Cleveland outscored its opponents by 21.0 points per 100 possessions.

The Magic have been both the best offensive team (scoring 116.0 points per 100 possessions) and the best defensive team (allowing 94.6) of the postseason thus far. That's a ridiculously high difference of 21.4.

2. The return of the vaunted Celtics' defense

The Celtics have been the second best defensive team of the postseason, allowing just 97.3 points per 100 possessions. They've been the best at forcing turnovers (17.8 per 100 possessions) and the only better defensive rebounding team has been the Miami Heat, whom the Celtics beat in the first round. And that's largely because the Celtics are a poor offensive rebounding team themselves.

3. If you love great defense, you'll love this series

Both the Celtics and Magic went against below-average offenses in the first round (Miami ranked 19th offensively in the regular season, while Charlotte ranked 24th). But in the conference semifinals, they both shut down one of the top five offensive teams in the league (Cleveland ranked fourth and Atlanta ranked third).

When you put two great defensive teams together, you're going to get some low-scoring basketball. And that's exactly what happened when these teams met in the regular season. The average score of the four games was Magic 88, Celtics 87. The games were played at a pretty slow pace, but the teams also combined to score just 94.1 points per 100 possessions, which is far worse than the Nets were offensively this season (98.1).

4. Playing through KG may be tougher this time around

With a matchup advantage against the 6-foot-9 Antawn Jamison, the Celtics ran their offense through Kevin Garnett early and often in the conference semifinals, and KG delivered. He averaged 18.8 points on 52 percent shooting in the series. You might think he has a similar advantage against the 6-foot-10 Rashard Lewis, but Garnett averaged just 10.5 points on 35 percent shooting against the Magic this season.

Garnett is playing better now than he was at any point in the regular season, but Lewis is also a tougher defender than Jamison is. And he has help from the Defensive Player of the Year, who will always be hanging around near the basket.

5. Defending Dwight

Kendrick Perkins is one of the best low-post defenders in the league, which is a nice asset to have when you're going against Dwight Howard. And indeed, Howard's offensive numbers against the Celtics over the last three years (16.4 points, 54 percent shooting, 8.1 free throw attempts) are worse than they are against the rest of the league (19.9 points, 60 percent shooting, 10.6 free throw attempts).

But you see the effect of Perkins' defense more when you look at the Magic's overall numbers against the Celtics. The Celtics don't like to double-team in the post (and they don't have to most of the time), which allows their perimeter defenders to stay at home. In 18 games against the Celtics over the last three years, the Magic have shot just 43 percent overall and just 34 percent from 3-point range, as opposed to 47 percent and 38 percent against other teams.

And that Celtics defense likes to keep you from moving the ball. The Magic averaged a measly 12.8 assists in their four games against Boston this season, registering just seven on Christmas and eight on Jan. 28.

6. Point guard duel

Many see Jameer Nelson vs. Rajon Rondo as the key matchup in this series, as it can be argued that the starting point guards have each been their team's best player through the first two rounds. Nelson missed last year's conference semifinals series and has only played in six of the 18 meetings between these two teams over the last three years.

The teams have split those six games, but Rondo has put up the better numbers. He has averaged 15.8 points, 7.5 rebounds and 6.0 rebounds, while shooting 57 percent from the field in the head-to-head matchups. Nelson has averaged 12.3 points, 3.0 rebounds and 3.7 assists, while shooting just 40 percent in the six games.

7. Controlling the glass

As noted above, the Celtics are one of the worst offensive rebounding teams in the league. But they averaged 16.3 second-chance points in their four wins over the Cavs. The incredible thing about that number is that they only averaged 7.5 offensive boards in those games, scoring an incredible 2.17 second-chance points per offensive rebound, much more than the league average of 1.21. (Note to all Boston opponents: If you give up an offensive rebound, find Ray Allen.)

The Magic were the best defensive rebounding team of the regular season, but haven't controlled the glass as much in the playoffs. They've give up 10 or more offensive boards in five of their eight games so far.

8. Orlando's success starts with the starters

No lineup has played more minutes together in the playoffs (203) than the Celtics' starters, but they've been just 3.8 points per 100 possessions better than their opponents thus far. The Magic starters have played 127 minutes together and are a plus-35.4 per 100 possessions. They were the best starting lineup in the regular season as well.

9. When they begin to go to the bench

We're looking at some small sample sizes here, but of all lineups on the remaining four teams that have played at least 25 playoff minutes, the Orlando lineup of Nelson, Carter, Barnes, Lewis and Gortat has been the best offensively, scoring 136.4 points per 100 possessions in 28 minutes together. The best lineup defensively has been the Boston lineup of Rondo, Ray Allen, Pierce, Davis and Perkins, which has allowed just 69.3 points per 100 possessions in 30 minutes together.

10. Celtics turning it around in the second half

The second half of games, especially the third quarter, was a problem for the Celtics in the regular season. They won the first half by an average of 4.4 points, but lost the second half by 0.8. In the postseason, they have seemed to fix that problem, outscoring their opponents by 1.7 points in the first half and 3.1 in the second half.

In the regular season, the third quarter was the Celtics' worst (-0.8), especially defensively (allowing 106.1 points per 100 possessions). And the Magic outscored them by an average of 8.0 points in the third in their four regular season meetings. But in the postseason, the third quarter has been the Celtics' best, outscoring their opponents by an average of 3.8 points in their 11 games thus far.

The difference has been the offense. The Celtics are shooting 53 percent from the field and 50 percent from 3-point range in the third quarter thus far in the postseason.

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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