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John Schuhmann

Jameer Nelson outplayed his counterpart Rajon Rondo for the first time in the series in Game 4.
Jim Rogash/NBAE/Getty Images

Aggressive Nelson the key to Magic victory in Game 4

Posted May 25 2010 2:04AM

BOSTON -- With the way the Boston Celtics have played over the last few weeks, finding a hole in their defense has not been easy.

But the Orlando Magic finally did it in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals, helping them stay alive with a 96-92 overtime victory, and sending the series back to Amway Arena for Game 5 on Wednesday.

The Celtics had absolutely shut down the Magic offense for much of the first three games, allowing Orlando to score less than a point per possession. Playing one-on-one, they took away passing lanes on both Dwight Howard's post-ups and the high screen-and-roll, holding the Magic to just 10 assists in Games 1 and 3.

"We haven't been able to blow by guys and break down defenses," Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said Sunday. "And when we have, we haven't been able to make the play. We just have not been able to find a way to bring a second defender to the ball to create open looks for other people."

With the Celtics staying at home on the perimeter when he came off the high screen, point guard Jameer Nelson wasn't seeing the passing lanes that he was used to.

"For 82 games, that play was there," Nelson said on the off day. "Now, you've got to rely on something else. We've just got to go out and play with our instincts, and just go out aggressive."

Nelson did just that in Game 4 and it made a world of difference. The Magic set countless high screen-and-rolls for their point guard, often a staggered screen, with Rashard Lewis setting a screen at the top of the key and Dwight Howard setting another one at the elbow extended. And rather than look to find a shooter right away, Nelson kept going. He penetrated deep into the Boston defense, sometimes circling around to the weak side.

"I was more aggressive and not worried about mistakes," Nelson said. "I think the first three games I was worried about swinging the ball and getting everybody involved. But my thing is if I get in the paint and be aggressive, that's how I get everybody involved, instead of me maintaining and coming off the screen and just taking one dribble, trying to put the pressure on those guys."

With Nelson taking the ball under the basket, the Celtics' defense collapsed into the paint and was turned completely around. That allowed Nelson to find both open shooters on the perimeter and Howard with mismatches back under the hoop. Five of his assists were to Howard, three of them on lobs at the rim.

Nelson picked up nine assists total, two more than he had in the first three games of this series combined. He also had more than a few hockey assists, with a Magic bucket coming two passes after his penetration.

"He created the vast majority of our offense tonight," Van Gundy said afterward. "I don't think there's any doubt about that."

Vince Carter pulled another disappearing act, scoring just three points on 1-for-9 shooting. But Nelson picked up the slack, adding 23 points to his nine assists. He got a couple of runners in the paint, but was also confident enough to step back for a jumper if the defense sagged off.

"I thought he dominated the game," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "I thought he went wherever he wanted to on the floor. And I thought he made big plays for them."

Overall, this was not an offensive onslaught by the Magic. They scored 96 points on 96 total possessions. After scoring 51 points in the first half, Orlando relied on its defense more in the third and fourth quarters. But they still got plenty of big plays from Nelson down the stretch, never abandoning that high screen-and-roll, even though the Celtics knew exactly what was coming.

The play created three of the Magic's four field goals in the fourth quarter and three of their four in overtime, including Nelson's back-to-back 3-pointers that gave the Magic the lead for good in the extra period.

The Magic are still down 3-1 in this series. But if they can get a win at home in Game 5, they put all the pressure back on the Celtics. Many teams would have let go of the rope after a Game 3 blowout that put them down 3-0, but this team did not. Game 4 was a display of their mental toughness and their belief that they can still get back to the Finals. And it all started with the guy who had the ball in his hands for most of the game.

"He's got a lot of guts," Van Gundy said of Nelson. "He's a tough competitive guy. I thought he played with great aggressiveness and fought very, very hard."

Now that the Magic have found a way to break through, they must find a way to do it again. And against these Celtics, nothing comes easy.

"I'm sure Boston will make some adjustments," Van Gundy said. "We'll have to find some other things. We can't put it all on [Nelson] on Wednesday. But he was tremendous tonight."

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

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