John Carroll, Scouts Inc.
I picked the Orlando Magic to win this series in six games. Obviously, I was wrong.
I felt that the Magic would win because of their success in the regular season, their 8-0 run through the playoffs and because of their balance on offense and defense. With Dwight Howard on the inside, their 3-point shooters on the perimeter and their ability to run pick-and-rolls and space the floor, I thought they would give the Celtics a ton of problems. I watched the Cavaliers mentally crumble when the Celtics turned up the defensive pressure. I never thought for a second that would happen to the Magic. Again, I was wrong.
Before this series started I pointed out five important keys to this series. Now that the the Celtics are leading the Eastern Conference finals 3-0, let's take a look at what went wrong.
The Magic and Celtics are two of the best defensive teams in the NBA. They are well coached, have sound schemes and pride themselves on stopping their opponent. I felt that whichever team could run their offensive sets and execute better would win this series. The Celtics have won the offensive battle hands down. They have had a balanced scoring attack throughout this series. They have had tremendous movement of the basketball, they have made the extra pass when needed, and it has showed up in the box score. The Celtics have averaged 93.7 points per game on 46 percent field-goal shooting. The Magic have only been able to score 83.7 ppg on 39 percent shooting from the field. In addition, the Magic have been held to 29 percent from the 3-point line. The Celtics have taken away their 3-point shooting by staying attached to their shooters and closing out them quickly on any help or recover situations. In Game 3, the Magic struggled mightily offensively, only scoring 12 points in the first quarter, and were careless with the ball, committing 11 of their 17 turnovers in the first half.
The Magic, who scored 102.8 ppg in the regular season, have been shut down by the Celtics. The Magic have been taken out of their comfort zone and have no answers. After 82 regular-season games and eight playoff games, you cannot change who you are. The Magic are still a good team. Unfortunately, they have run into a better one.
2. The Paint
Both the Magic and the Celtics understand the importance of playing inside-out basketball. The Celtics did a marvelous job of scoring through the post versus the Cavaliers and the Magic did the same versus the Hawks. Both teams make a concerted effort to get the ball inside and utilize their power forwards or centers to score.
The Celtics have played Howard straight-up in the post in the first three games, daring the Magic to post him up. The Celtics were convinced going into this series that Howard could not beat them, and he has proven them right. Howard, who has scored 17 ppg this series, had success in Game 2, scoring 30 points, but has struggled versus Kendrick Perkins and Rasheed Wallace. Unless he has gotten the ball deep in the paint and in front of the rim, he has been ineffective. The Celtics have won the post-up game in this series.
Boston runs its offense through Garnett, but Perkins only scores an occasional basket on offensive stick-backs and Wallace has spent most of the season spacing the court and shooting 3-pointers. I thought the Magic would be able to get consistent production from Howard, but he has been lost in this series. His lack of a post-up game has hurt him and his team.
3. Point Guard
Everyone knew that one of the most important matchups would be at point guard. Rajon Rondo and Jameer Nelson have each scored 44 points in this series. However, Rondo has been one of the most important players on the court for either team because of how much he impacts a game without scoring. Rondo has been the facilitator for the Celtic offense, dishing out 9.3 assists per game and directing veterans Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Garnett. Rondo's defense has limited Nelson’s effectiveness in pick-and-rolls, been a factor on the glass and has been a disruptive force defensively with his quickness, hands and relentless pursuit of the ball.
I knew that Rondo could win this battle and thus it would be an advantage for the Celtics, but I did not think that it would be so lopsided. Jameer has not put his imprint on this series like I thought he would. He has scored but he has not been a consistently effective player. In Game 3, he had 15 points but went 5-for-14 from the field, had only one assist and four turnovers. Rondo has won this battle and given the Celtics another advantage in this series. It should have been a closer battle between these two All-Star players, but Nelson has not done enough in this series.
4. Defend the 3-point shot
The Celtics have defended the Magic’s 3-point shot better than any team in the playoffs. During the regular season, the Magic shot 37 percent from the 3-point line, tied for third in the NBA. They Magic attempted over 27 3-pointers per game, and it has been a major weapon in their offensive attack. After three games in this series, the Magic are shooting only 20-for-70 (28 percent) from behind the arc.
The Celtics have locked onto Rashard Lewis (1-for-13 from 3 in this series), Nelson (6-for-21), Vince Carter (2-for-8) and Mickael Pietrus (3-for-10). They have attached themselves to these shooters and taken away their ability to get off quality 3-point shots.
Everyone knew the 3-point shot would be a big factor in this series. I did not think that the Celtics would be able to guard the pick-and-rolls of the Magic as well as they have and I thought they would be forced to help more on Howard. Since they have been able to guard both of these strengths of the Magic so well they have been able to take away the 3-point shot of the Magic.
The Magic's, their deep and talented bench has not been much of a factor in this series. The Magic produced 35.6 ppg out of their top-five bench players (Jason Williams, J.J. Redick, Pietrus, Ryan Anderson, and Marcin Gortat) during the regular season. In this series, their bench has only produced 26 points per game. Redick is the only Magic bench player who has played well. Redick has averaged 11.3 ppg off the bench and hit 50 percent of his 3-point shots.
The Celtics' bench has outscored the Magic’s bench in two out of three games. Davis and Wallace have made tremendous contributions for the Celtics both on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. Davis has averaged 10.3 ppg and Wallace 9.6 ppg off the bench for the Celtics. However, their defensive presence, rebounding and energy off the bench have been very important reasons why the Celtics are up 3-0 in this series.
There are four more possible games left in this series. Anything is possible. We have seen the Red Sox come back from a 3-0 deficit and beat the Yankees. Recently, the Flyers came back from a 3-0 hole to beat the Bruins.
But the Celtics have overwhelmed Orlando so convincingly in this series I doubt that it will last more than one or two games. I was right in what I thought the keys to this series were, but I was dead wrong on how I thought they would play out.
Prediction: Celtics win Game 4