By John Carroll, Scouts Inc.
Mike Tyson once said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth."
Tyson’s quote sums up the first two games of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals. The Celtics have punched the Magic right in the mouth and they have not had a response. The Magic came into this series feeling very good about their team, their regular-season record and how they had performed in the first two playoff series.
But they have run into a team that is playing better, a team that has a solid blueprint of how to defend them, and a team that has demonstrated a no-nonsense approach to winning playoff basketball games. The Magic look like they have gotten hit by a Tyson right hand and are staggering in the ring. They defend but cannot stop the Celtics. They get close but cannot make the big plays at the end of the game.
Offensively they are scoring but the Celtics are taking them out of their traditional game plan. The Celtics game plan is to play Dwight Howard one-on-one in the post with no help. They have stayed home on Rashard Lewis, Vince Carter and J.J. Redick in order to take away the 3-point shot. And Rajon Rondo has made Jameer Nelson into a bit player in this series.
For a team that went to the NBA Finals last year, the Orlando Magic have been a disappointment. They do not have the look and demeanor of a winner. The Celtics look like assassins. Every move they make offensively and defensively has the purposeful look of a winner. The Magic on the other hand look unsure, and close to unraveling under the pressure.
The Celtics are much tougher than the Magic. They have defended much better than the Magic. They have taken away the 3-point line from the Magic. Their starters are producing much better than the Magic’s. They have taken home court and ripped it right out of the Magic’s hands. The Magic had a plan, but they got punched in Game 1 and have not yet punched back.
Game 3 Adjustments
Statistics do not lie! If you look at the offensive and defensive statistics of the Magic it is clear how the Celtics are up 2-0 in this series. The Magic were a very good defensive team during the regular season and in the first eight games of the playoffs. They have only played good defense in three of the eight quarters in this series. Two of those have been in the fourth quarter of both games when they were behind.
In those quarters they held the Celtics to 18 and 17 points, respectively. The Magic have allowed the Celtics to shoot (45.2 FG%) and (37.0 3-point FG%) in the first two games. During the regular season the Magic only allowed their opponents to shoot (43.8 FG%) and (36.3 3-point FG%). Offensively, the Magic have struggled to score efficiently and have been taken out of their comfort zone.
The Magic’s offensive numbers are down. They scored 102.8 ppg, sixth best in the NBA, during the regular season. In this series they are being held to only 90 points per game. The Magic shot (47.0 FG%) and (37.5 3-point FG%) during the regular season. Compare that to the (40.5 FG%) and (30/0 3-point FG%) that they have shot versus the Celtics in the first two games and you can see why they are struggling.
Defensively the Magic have met their match. Although the Magic are a good defensive team, they are currently playing the best defensive team in the NBA. The Celtics' length, schemes and toughness make them the best defensive team in the NBA. They were the best defensive team in the league two years ago and with their renewed health and commitment to the defensive end of the floor they have found their stride again. Their game plan is simple: play one-on-one in the post, allow no layups or dunks. Defend the 3-point line and stay attached to Orlando’s shooters. Be exact and precise in pick-and-roll coverage, close out to shooters and be sharp in rotations.
The Magic must find a way in Game 3 to match the Celtics' mental and physical toughness. The Magic have not displayed the toughness necessary to win this series. They have gotten away from the things that made them a good defensive team They must have a much better defensive effort for the entire 48 minutes of Game 3.
The Celtics embarrassed the Magic in Games 1 and 2. They were more physical, mentally tougher, and had an edge about them that the Magic did not match. If the Magic cannot do a 180-degree turn and develop that same edge in Game 3 this series will be over quickly.
Offensively the Magic must play faster. The must find a way to have much more ball movement. They must run more pick-and-rolls and move the ball from one side of the floor to the other. They must stay away from a high number of direct post-ups. When the Magic move the ball, and reverse it, and run multiple pick-and- rolls in the same possession they are much more effective versus the Celtics.
It is obvious from looking at assists that the Magic have not been moving the ball as effectively as the Celtics. The Celtics have assisted on 41 of their 67 made field goals. Therefore 61 percent of their scoring comes off a teammate's pass. The Magic have only assisted on 28 of their 60 made field goals. Thus Orlando has only had 47 percent of their scoring come off an assist.
The Magic have dug a hole for themselves in both games. They have had to come back in every game because of their play in the first three quarters. The Celtics are a + 24 in the first three quarters of Games 1 and 2. The Magic have played well in the fourth quarter of those games and are a +17.
The Magic must be the aggressor in Game 3, and take it to the Celtics. They must build a lead and then finish strong. The Celtics made plays down the stretch of Game 2 and the Magic wilted. The Celtics showed poise and toughness while the Magic wilted under the pressure. Nelson forced a 3-point shot early in the shot clock, Carter missed two huge free throws, and Redick forgot to call time-out so the Magic could advance the ball. The Magic need to put themselves in a position to win Game 3 and then make the plays down the stretch to seal the victory.
Prediction: Magic win Game 3