The Boston Celtics habit of playing down to the level of their competition continued on Sunday night when they squeaked past the Orlando Magic 116-110 in overtime. Rajon Rondo led the way for Boston, just missing a triple-double with 15 points, nine rebounds and 16 assists. Kevin Garnett and Brandon Bass also recorded double-doubles with KG putting up 24 points and 10 rebounds while Bass registered 13 and 12. Paul Pierce also helped out with 23 points but the Celtics got all they could handle from the 5-8 Magic who were spearheaded by Jameer Nelson's 20 points and J.J. Redick's 21. The Celtics had a chance to win in regulation after letting an 11 point third quarter lead get away, but Pierce's 18 foot jump shot bounced out and the Celtics were forced to fend Orlando off in the extra frame. It was not the kind of win that inspires confidence, as the Celtics were once again inconsistent on offense and downright poor on defense, but a win is a win.
Turning Point I
Want to stop the Celtics from scoring? Easy, just let them get a double digit lead. The Celtics had numerous chances to put this game away both early and late. In fact they went ahead by double digits on four separate occasions, however each time they did they then immediately stopped scoring until the lead was back down to single digits again. After letting the Magic hang around for the better part of three quarters despite completely outplaying them this finally came back to bite Boston at the end of the third when the Celtics just fell apart. They started off the half poorly, turning it over on three of their first four possessions, and just kept finding ways not to score as Orlando gradually closed the gap. The Magic closed the third on a 13-4 run and took an 82-80 lead into the fourth. In one maddening stretch the Celtics missed three layups and two wide open three pointers all on the same possession. They actuallystretched the lead to seven early in the fourth before the Celtics finally pulled themselves together.
Turning Point II
The Magic, a team that averages 90 points per game, hit 95 with 8:07 remaining in regulation when Mo Harkless buried a three to push Orlando's lead to 95-88. The Magic would only manage seven points in the final eight minutes of regulation. Boston's D had been absolutely awful to that point, but when the game started to get away from them they limited the Magic to just 2-13 shooting as the game wound down and forced them into five turnovers. The Celtics weren't able to take full advantage of their new found defensive prowess as, after Garnett tied the game at 102 with 1:21 remaining in regulation they also weren't able to score despite numerous opportunities to take the lead. However them finally focusing on the defensive end kept them in a game that could easily have gotten away. Jameer Nelson and J.J. Redick were on fire entering the fourth quarter, but Boston finally hunkered down on defense, and once the game got to overtime it was never really in doubt. Not after Pierce buried a three and Rondo flipped in a layup to put them ahead by five. It would be nice to see the Celtics make things easy on themselves, but fans know that that just is not in their DNA.
It's starting to sound like a broken record but it is hard to overemphasize just how bad the Celtics were defensively on Sunday night. It's one thing when they struggle against great offensive teams like the Spurs and Thunder, who score on practically everyone. It is quite another when they let the Magic, who's best offensive player is Glen Davis, put up triple digits on them. Orlando basically ran nothing but a simple high pick and roll in the third quarter and at one point were shooting 78 percent in the second half. It's not that hard to defend a pick and roll but the Celtics once again were completely incapable of even slowing it down. The also let the Magic hit 11 three point shots on the night. A few were tough shots by Redick, possibly the greatest shooter in the history of college basketball, but most were wide open looks. The low point came in the third quarter when Pierce just stood there and watch Moe Harkless nail a three right in front of him. Coach Doc Rivers immediately called a timeout and screamed at Pierce that that kind of effort wasn't going to cut it. Paul got the message, but no one else did, as the D just got worse from there. The effort, the intensity, the communication, the execution, none of it has been good thus far. The Celtics showed in the fourth quarter that shreds of their defensive identity are still there, and that they can still turn it on for stretches. However the overall product has not been good enough. In fact it's not even close.
Leo is Great, But He's Not Rondo
The Celtics got a great boost in the first half when Leandro Barbosa replaced Rondo late in the first quarter and scored 11 quick points, allowing Rivers to give Rondo an extended first half breather. However when Rondo picked up his fourth foul late in the third quarter again forcing him to the bench again Barbosa didn't have the same success. He did manage to score four more points, but it was in the midst of terrible offensive stretch in which the C's missed nine of their 14 field goal attempts. Rondo returned with 6:25 remaining in regulation and the Celtics promptly went on a 9-0 run, turning a 97-91 deficit into a 100-97. If that doesn't show how valuable Rondo is to the Celtics nothing does. Barbosa is a very good player who's aggression and intensity are great weapons, but Rondo drives the big green bus, and without him in there the Celtics just aren't the same team.
Jeff Green has really been a microcosm of the Celtics season thus far – insanely inconsistent. Green had probably his best game as a Celtic on Friday against the Oklahoma City Thunder, dropping 17 points in the Celtics' win. He followed it up with probably his worst, scoring one point on 0-9 shooting with one assist and two rebounds. From this vantage point Green did mostly the right things. He was still a bit tentative and tried to force an ill advised pass in transition when he probably had a dunk staring him in the face. But overall he took all the shots that he is supposed to and got a bunch of good shots, shots he normally makes. He just couldn't hit anything on Sunday. Green's play seems to be weirdly tied in with the Celtics success this year. When he plays well they can beat just about anyone (see wins over the Thunder, Jazz and Bucks), but when he plays poorly they can lose to literally anyone (see blowout loss to Detroit, near loss to Orlando). Green has had more than his fair share of great games with the C's. The problem remains doing it on a consistent basis. He has his moments, more-so than any other Celtic sub, but he just can't find a way to make a consistent impact. Guess that's why they call him a x-factor.
What It Means
The only real positive to come out of this game is that the Celtics are still money during crunch time. The blow leads like it's their job, but when the moments get bigger they just keep playing better. Everyone wants to tell them that they can't just flip a switch whenever they feel like it. Problem is that they actually can. You can see it happening on any given night – the Celtics get serious all at once. It is what Celtics101 calls "waiting for winning time." Incredibly frustrating to watch, but it just keeps working.
The Celtics get back to business when the Brooklyn Nets come to town with tip-off set for 7:30 p.m. from TD Garden.
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