For the second consecutive round and the fourth time in two postseasons, the Boston Celtics have booked a date with a familiar friend.
Another Game 7 is on its way.
Thursday night was a tale of two halves for the defending champs, and the worse of the two allowed the Orlando Magic to dodge an ousting from the playoffs as they ducked out of Amway Arena with an 83-75 series-tying win.
Half No. 1 had the C's shooting nearly 50% from the floor with Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo and Kendrick Perkins dominating the game. The three combined for 28 points, 18 rebounds and nine assists in the half and led Boston into the locker room with a 46-45 lead.
Half No. 2 couldn't have been any more different, as every Celtic struggled from the field and the team looked as sloppy on offense as they have all season. Pierce didn't make a shot in the second half until only 6:00 remained in the game. To combat with his struggles, Boston's careless play resulted in more turnovers (13) than made field goals (12) over the final 24 minutes.
Boston used a quick 9-0 run to pull ahead by 10 points just five minutes into the second half, which was the largest lead of the game for either team. The Celtics were playing with energy, everyone was contributing and the Magic looked like lame ducks.
"At one point in time, I think they were ready to lay down, but we kept giving them hope," said Perkins. "They got the fans back into it and got some energy."
It was more than just the Magic's energy; the Celtics' wheels completely fell off in the second half.
Orlando's defense stymied the C's on nearly every possession the rest of the way. Boston made only two more field goals over the final 6:00 of the third quarter and six more in the entire game. In fact, Rondo's floating jumper with 3:46 remaining in the game were the final points the Celtics would put on the scoreboard.
At the other end of the court, Orlando's big three delivered. Dwight Howard, Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu each scored huge points for the Magic in the final three minutes and, combined with a Rafer Alston's floater in the lane, gave Orlando an 8-0 run to finish the game.
That 8-0 run was the difference in the game, as it began at the 2:47 mark of the third with the score tied at 75-75.
Howard wreaked havoc in the paint all night long. Just two days removed from his postgame tirade following Game 5, the All-NBA first teamer scored 23 points and pulled in 22 rebounds, 10 of which came on the offensive end.
"When Dwight is playing with the energy and the effort that he played with tonight, you know maximizing his athletic gifts, he's just a very, very tough guy to play on the move," said Stan Van Gundy.
The only other big performer for Orlando was Lewis, who scored 20 points and grabbed six rebounds.
But this night wasn't about Orlando coming out of their shooting funk, it was about Boston sinking into one of their own. The C's finished an ice-cold 3-of-18 from three-point territory, 8-of-13 from the free throw line and shot only 34.3% from the field in the second half.
The offensive success in the first half and early moments of the third quarter was largely a result of stellar ball movement. During the second half struggle that saw only 29 total points put on the board, that ball movement was nearly non-existent.
"You have to go out and execute and trust each other and move the ball," Doc Rivers said. "I don't we think we had a whole bunch of that tonight."
In addition to the lack of ball movement, Boston racked up 28 personal fouls compared to Orlando's 15.
Rondo was the Celtics' top performer with 19 points, 16 rebounds, six assists and four steals, while Pierce chipped in 17 and nine boards. Allen, the third prong of Boston's normally potent offensive attack, had another night to forget. He finished just 2-of-11 from the field and missed all of his three-pointers.
The Celtics head home to regroup for Game 7 and will have two days off for the first time since the days following Game 3 of Round 1 against Chicago, which took place on April 23.
With two consecutive seven-game series', Boston couldn't thank the schedule makers enough. Two days off will give them time to rest their legs, regain focus and prepare for yet another do-or-die game in front of their home fans.
Although Rivers said after the game that the team can't rely on having home court advantage and let a series get to the seventh game, Pierce is definitely happy that he'll be playing on the parquet in Boston.
"That is the reason that we play the regular season and get the No. 2 seed, so we get this opportunity," he said. "We will be ready."