Celtics 95, Magic 92
To win an NBA championship, a team must go through four deadly opponents, four intimidating arenas, numerous close games and countless hours of game-planning.
There is one inevitable block in the championship road, though, that cannot be measured in numbers: adversity.
A team's reaction to adverse situations will always prove to be the determining factor in how far it will go in its pursuit of a championship. Tuesday's Game 2 in Orlando brought that notion to fruition, and it gave a clear indication as to why most of the Boston Celtics have been crowned champions before, while most, if not all, of the Orlando Magic's roster has failed to hoist the Larry O'Brien Trophy in June.
The initial 44 minutes of Game 2 can be tossed out the window -- they didn't matter. What now matters is how each team executed, or, in some case, doesn't. Tonight's crunch time was the final 3:36 of playing time, and the extra adversity was delivered in the final 34.7 seconds.
Orlando showed yet again that no matter how many points they may trail by, and no matter how much time is left on the clock, it is a force to be reckoned with. After staging a furious fourth-quarter comeback in Game 1 that fell just short of a miraculous win, the Magic were able to turn an 11-point fourth-quarter deficit into a one-point lead when Vince Carter swished a jumper from 20 feet to put his team ahead 90-89.
The easy part is the comeback. The tough part is holding on for a win -- that's when the adversity sets in.
Doc Rivers may be the mastermind of the NBA when it comes to drawing up plays for critical baskets. He whistled for a timeout immediately after Carter's jumper because he knew his team needed a bucket. The Celtics, however, missed a shot out of that timeout, had a chance to grab an offensive rebound, but allowed the Magic to gain possession.
Orlando now had the ball with a chance to go up by three or four and send its crowd into a frenzy and run Boston's well dry of momentum.
How did the Celtics respond? Well, they forced Carter into a missed jumper, took the ball to the other end of the court and watched Kevin Garnett drain a nearly impossible fade-away jumper along the baseline over the two-time defending Defensive Player of the Year, Dwight Howard, to put them back on top by one.
Boston then forced J.J. Redick into a turnover and Rajon Rondo drained a huge jumper at the other end to put Boston ahead by three points with 1:32 remaining in the game.
After Jameer Nelson answered back with a driving layup for the Magic to cut the lead to one, it was time for the real drama to unfold.
Paul Pierce, the clutchest Celtic of them all and 2008 NBA Finals MVP, was given an isolation play to score the biggest points of the game. He made a move to his sweet spot and was fouled by Redick as his shot missed.
Pierce then approached the line with body language that anyone would envy. He took these shots not thinking they'd go in, but knowing they'd go in. That attitude paid off when he went calmly sank both shots, put the C's ahead by three and sent the Magic into a timeout while their arena stood in silence.
When Orlando got the ball back and chose to attack the basket rather than take one of their renowned 3-point shots, Vince Carter was rewarded with his own trip to the free-throw line -- a trip that included the two biggest free throws of his 12-year career.
Was it nerves? Was it form? We don't really know, but what we do know is that Carter promptly stepped to the line and clanked both free throws off of the rim, leaving behind by three with 30.6 seconds remaining.
After Rivers whistled for another timeout, Garnett misfired on another jumper and Redick grabbed the rebound with 8.9 seconds left on the clock, turned to the sideline and began to dribble toward half court for a final shot. The problem is, that's the last thing his team needed him to do. Apparently, the Duke grad didn't realize his team had a timeout to spare, which would have set Orlando up at mid-court for a final play.
"That was all covered in the timeout, of course," said Stan Van Gundy, noting that he had told his players in their previous timeout that they had one remaining, along with instructions on how to use it. "We were playing, we had six-second differential. We were playing for a stop and an immediate timeout."
They got the stop, and they got the timeout -- it just wasn't immediate.
As a result of Redick approaching midcourt but calling the timeout with 3.5 seconds remaining and before crossing the halfcourt line, Orlando was forced to take the ball out in the backcourt, about a 10-15 foot difference along the sideline. As Van Gundy noted after the game, that distance wound up making all the difference.
"It would have made a big difference because if you watch the last play, Rashard (Lewis) got open," said Van Gundy, speaking of Orlando's failed attempt at a last-second 3-pointer. "But because we're inbounding in the back court, (Michael) Finley was back in the passing lane and we could not make the pass to him."
Orlando was forced to inbound the ball to Nelson in the backcourt, and his attempt at a game-tying heave from halfcourt at the buzzer went array.
At the end of the day, adversity was crushed by one team, but crushed the other.
Redick's critical mistakes and Carter's inability to sink clutch free throws were the pitfall for Orlando tonight, while Boston's ability to make the necessary plays down the stretch sent them on to victory.
Orlando is now 0-2 in this series, but they went 0-2 tonight alone. The Magic lost to the Celtics, but consider adversity the victor, too.
Key Box Score Line
For the first 24 minutes of Game 2 tonight in Orlando, it seemed like Paul Pierce was destined for another epic performance in Celtics playoff history. But when foul trouble plagued him in the second half, it was Rajon Rondo who stole the show.
Pierce scored 22 of his team-high 28 points in the first half while Rondo hung in the background and waited for his opportunity to pounce on the Magic. After scoring 13 quiet points in the first half, Rondo dropped 12 points in the second half that were as loud as any in the game. His six points in the fourth quarter were some of the biggest of his career.
Rondo's first two points of the fourth quarter came as he moved from right to left in the lane and dropped a running floater through the net as he was bumped on his right hip by an Orlando defender. That shot was something, but his next shot was something else. Orlando was in the midst of making a comeback attempt when Jason Williams turned the ball over after Rondo poked it away from behind. Ray Allen took control of the ball and tossed it ahead to a streaking Rondo, who put it in overdrive and attacked the rim. He took off from the left side of the lane and threw an up-and-under layup shot off the glass that was reminiscent of Julius Erving's transcendent layup in the 1980 NBA Finals, only Rondo's had a bit more english off the glass. He spun the ball so much that it seemingly spun off the bottom half of the rim, but still made it up and over to fall through the hoop.
With the Celtics ahead by only one point and less than two minutes left, Rondo dropped a dagger of a jumper through the net without touching the rim that put the C's back up by three with 1:33 remaining. Those were his final points of the game -- and Boston's final field goal -- and aside from Pierce's free throws just less than a minute later, they were the biggest of the game.
Rondo's final tally of 25 points, five rebounds, eight assists, two steals and 10-of-16 shooting from the floor was by far the top line of the game, and without it, this series might be heading back to Boston knotted up at 1-1.
Box Score Nuggets
- The series' two All-Star power forwards, Kevin Garnett (10 points) and Rashard Lewis (six points) combined to score only 16 points tonight.
- Paul Pierce scored 22 of his team-high 28 points in the first half. He also finished with five rebounds and five assists.
- Ray Allen scored only four points on 1-of-6 shooting.
- The Celtics out-rebounded the Magic 38-36.
- Boston limited Dwight Howard, the league's two-time defending rebounding champion, to only eight rebounds.
- The teams combined to shoot 12-of-33 from 3-point range (5-of-15 for Boston, 7-of-18 for Orlando).
- Only 21 points were scored on the fast break in the game (11 by Orlando, 10 by Boston).
- Dwight Howard scored a game-high 30 points and made 12 of his 17 free throw attempts. He shot 9-of-13 from the floor.
- Pierce and Kendrick Perkins both fouled out of the game for Boston, while Rasheed Wallace also picked up five fouls.
- Orlando took a whopping 38 shots from the free-throw line, making 29.
- Two of those misses came in the final 32 seconds, when Vince Carter missed two critical freebies for Orlando.
- Orlando shot only 39.4 percent from the field.
- J.J. Redick scored 16 points off the bench for the Magic, including 8-of-8 form the free-throw line.
- Three Magic starters failed to break double-digits in scoring (Jameer Nelson nine points, Matt Barnes six points, Rashard Lewis five points).
- Garnett grabbed a game-high nine rebounds.
- Pierce committed five of Boston's 15 turnovers.
- Glen Davis notched eight points and six rebounds off the bench for the Celtics.
- The Celtics starters were incredibly consistent in their impact on the game. Three starters (Garnett, Pierce and Allen) finished with a plus-seven in the plus/minus rating, while the other two (Rondo and Perkins) finished with a plus-three.
- Boston finished with seven blocks, while Orlando had only two.
Quote of the Night
Ray Allen on the Celtics' decision to use their fouls when necessary: "We have a group of guys that take the mentality that we can't take our fouls when we go home. You can't let any easy layups come down the lane. Send them to the free throw line. We did that all game."