With a 2-0 lead and two games on deck in the Garden, the Celtics decided to choke off any air the Magic might want to breathe in the first quarter of Saturday's 94-71 win Game 3.
The wire-to-wire domination of the Magic put the C's up 3-0 in the Eastern Conference Finals and gives them a commanding lead that's unlikely to evaporate.
Paul Pierce and Rondo swarm Jameer Nelson as he tries to turn the corner against an overwhelming Celtics defense that choked off any air the Magic hoped to breathe in Game 3.
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty
They're one win away from a return to the NBA Finals.
If Orlando had any shot to get back into this series, it probably had to be Saturday night. But the Celtics' defense would have none of it. The C's smelled blood early; they swarmed the Magic all night with some of the best defensive rotations they've had all year, contesting nearly every shot taken in the first quarter and holding Orlando to just 12 points in the first 12 minutes of the game.
"The focus and energy they came out to start the game with, when you come out with that type ‑‑ with both, it's tough to get beat, at least in that quarter," Celtics Coach Doc Rivers said. "And the fact they were able to sustain it was terrific. So hats off to them."
The C's defense suffocated the Magic from the jump ball, as the C's jumped out 7-0, then 21-6, then 27-12 after the end of the first quarter. Orlando shot just 24 percent from the field in the opening frame, and their body language was already revealing a defeated team before the contest even reached halftime.
In fact, the play that may have made the Magic tap out was a simple hustle play by Rajon Rondo, who chased down a loose ball in the Magic backcourt after a deflection. Rondo beat Jason Williams to a ball at his feet, scooped it up, sprung up to his feet and converted a tough layup to make it 36-17 with 8:34 to go in the first half.
"My reaction was just like everybody's else's - pure grit, pure hustle play. I told him after the game when he was in the back, I told him that was probably the play of the playoffs to me. That was just pure hustle. Pure hustle, pure basketball, pure I‑want‑it‑more‑than‑you type of play. And I thought it was a foul, too. But that's just me," Celtics forward Kevin Garnett said at the podium, seated next to Rondo.
Tony Allen, who created the turnover with his initial deflection said of Rondo, "He saw blood and just attacked."
Meanwhile, a focused Celtics squad was back to showing the swagger that was a hallmark of the 2008 championship team and its vaunted defense.
Still, much like Paul Pierce contended after Friday's practice, Rivers just isn't ready to make comparisons to the 2008 World Championship team.
"I try to stay away from it. We haven't scratched what we did in '08," Rivers said. "We won some playoff games as far as I'm concerned. Our defense is starting to pick up like that. I can tell you that. And that's good. Because we've talked about it all year. We are a defensive team."
Coming out of the locker room in the third quarter, the Celtics stoked up the defense again. That's another mark familiar of the 2008 team, coming out of the half and bearing down to start the third quarter by making opponents say "uncle." The C's held the Magic to just 13 third-quarter points and by the start of the fourth quarter, Garden fans were already looking ahead to the Finals, chanting "BEAT LA!"
"It was one of our best defensive performances of the year," Rondo said, noting that it was just 'fun' to be out there tonight.
Captain Paul Pierce, who's racheted up his defense, not to mention his rebounding -- he grabbed nine more rebounds tonight -- said his team got a lift from the Garden faithful.
"We know we're a defensive team and that's what we thrive off of. We were able to turn them over, gather some momentum from our crowd and we just fed off our crowd tonight to tell you the truth. We felt their energy, felt their vibe," Pierce said. "And at this point this team is playing too well and too confident to become complacent because we're a step closer to where we want to be."