A Daily Babble Production
Last night's second round opener between the Magic and Celtics featured a lot that didn't make me happy. But in addition to leaving Applebee's (the only restaurant around here with tabletop audio) peeved about a 95-90 loss and the host of reasons it happened, I walked away thrilled yet again with the play of one Brian Scalabrine.
It's hard to believe that a year ago, this guy's best asset appeared to be his knack for the wildly entertaining celebratory press conference after earning a DNP-CD. It's nearly as hard to believe that three weeks ago, he continued to suffer the effects of post-concussion syndrome. Yet Scal gave the Celtics his third consecutive big effort off the bench last night, and this one was the best of the bunch.
The beginning of the Celtics' run to turn a 28-point rout back into a basketball game coincided with Scalabrine's arrival on the floor with eight and a half minutes to play in the third quarter. This was not accidental. After he had trouble defending Rashard Lewis in the first half, Scalabrine was assigned to guard Hedo Turkoglu for much of his second half stint. He responded by doing the best job playing defense with his feet that I can remember from him.
When the Magic began featuring Turkoglu as the point forward (and thus primary ball-handler), Scalabrine picked him up before halfcourt and ragged him all the way up the floor. He stayed low in his defensive stance and slid his feet exactly the way coaches teach their players at every level of this game across the globe. Defying his quickness deficiencies, Scal kept Turkoglu in front of him but managed to stay close enough to prevent him from using his hallmark jab-step-and-back move to create space on the perimeter. The Magic forward made exactly one field-goal over the game's final 20 minutes and just four trips to the line (he only converted one of those free throws). The redhead deserves plenty of credit for that as well as for doing a better job on Lewis the second time around.
At the other end, Scal did his part to help stretch the floor for his team. In the first half, he ball-faked in the right corner and drove to the bucket for an awkward looking floater that fell in. He posted eight more points in the fourth quarter, when he nailed two threes off kickouts and then drew a foul on an up-fake with his foot on the three-point line.
The redhead wrapped up Hedo Turkoglu to prevent a fast break, grabbed an offensive rebound and fought for position on another before realizing that the ball was headed out of bounds off an Orlando player. That's savvy basketball.
Scal's play was far from perfect, as he committed a dopey turnover and a bad foul to allow Dwight Howard a three-point play on an offensive rebound late in the game. Again, his lack of quickness or ball-handling ability are still realities of his play. We're still a long way from me being able to say that he makes me forget about the fellow who waltzed down to Mardi Gras in New Orleans last summer. But the fact that the Celtics rolled up a plus-22 differential with him in the game last night was more than incidental correlation.
Brian Scalabrine is doing a heckuva job for a final-eight playoff team right now, and that's no joke.
Other ramblings from a bizarre game:
- The first 28 minutes of this basketball game were disgusting. Period.
- Rashard Lewis causes a significant match-up problem for Large Baby at the defensive end. I think we're all clear on this now. Baby got off to a fine start offensively, but he fell off a bit after getting into foul trouble.
- Consider me happy with the job Kendrick Perkins, the Infant and occasionally Scal did defensively against Dwight Howard. He didn't score in the first quarter, and the Celtics' bigs kept him from getting too many of those easy baskets - putback dunks, lobs, deep catches for lay-ins - that allow him to explode offensively. The three and-one plays (he converted two) were really my only significant complaints here.
- In a game the Celtics kept him from dominating at the offensive end, Dwight Howard finished with 16 points on 50 percent shooting to go with 22 rebounds and three blocks. This guy is a beast, plain and simple. The Celtics' saving grace regarding his defense is that Howard still enjoys swinging for the fences on every block, and there is no harm in taking the ball side out after Howard sends it into Row J.
- Perk set the tone for a rough night at the offensive end with an early possession in which he decided to be an operator on the left side for a while, had his shot put back in his face by Howard, fooled around with the ball some more and then turned it over. His five offensive rebounds were important. The rest of his offensive game, I could have done without.
- Credit the Celtics for clamping down as a unit at the defensive end in the second half, particularly on anything going into the paint. They benefitted from the Magic missing some shots from the outside, but the C's made an improved effort to jam the lane and get their hands on everything in the middle, which led to more than a few blocked shots and turnovers.
- As far as "getting their hands on everything" is concerned, "everything" included people in blue shirts. Once again, this refereeing business seems to balance out over time: It seemed to me like the Celtics were getting away with murder on the inside late in the third and early in the fourth, and the Magic then got a couple of similar no-calls at the defensive end down the stretch. The officials were consistent in allowing play to be fairly physical, and I see no reason to complain about that.
- Great to see Stephon Marbury come out and make his first four shots while also dishing out a few assists, including one for another Eddie House three. I can't explain this particularly well, but it looked to me as though his body language changed after the first couple of makes, as if he suddenly made the conscious decision that this was time for gunner mode. The Celts needed the burst, and I'm glad to see him score, but part of me will always be nervous given his history that a few made shots will turn his mentality 180 degrees back to its old direction.
- Rough shooting night for Ray Allen. Oh, well. So his true shooting will fall a bit from its astronomical 63.2 percent figure in the playoffs so far. We'll survive.
- Fine play for the Celtics off the Perk-J.J. Redick jump ball in the fourth quarter. Perk tapped it back in the pocket between Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo, Eddie House broke straight for the left wing, and Rondo hit him with a chest pass right away. The ensuing three cut the Orlando lead to 12, and Stan Van Gundy would call a timeout after a Rondo steal-and-dunk on the next play cut the lead to 10 for the first time in the second half. Probably the high point of my evening.
- Mickael Pietrus shot the ball well. Given the personnel the Magic have on the floor, he's going to end up getting some decent looks if the Celtics can force the ball away from Lewis, Turkoglu and Redick (whose shooting ability is the reason he is in this league) on the perimeter. Though Pietrus' percentages matched up nearly identically with Turkoglu's this season, Hedo is the better shooter historically and the higher volume scorer. On nights when Pietrus hits his shots, I'll tip my cap.
- Time to steal a line Bill Simmons used in the first installment of his thoroughly enjoyable running diary series for the 2005 NBA Finals. The original player referenced in the following sentence was Bruce Bowen: "Any scenario that involves the phrase "Here's a wide-open [Alston]!" is a situation you want to explore and possibly even provoke. Again, considering the Magic's personnel around the three-point arc, I'll take Rafer launching threes all day.
- Up and down night for Paul Pierce. Foul trouble, not so good. Overall shooting, not so good. Offense down the stretch, looked decent enough by me. Nice to see him hit a couple of threes in the fourth.
- Not sure why the Celtics didn't even attempt to go two-for-one while trailing by four with 35 seconds to play.
- The enigmatic nature of Rajon Rondo continues to grow: He was a non-factor in the first half, which was not good. In the second half, he alternated between terrific and terrible. Kudos where due: Without Raj's energy, the Celts never get back in this game. He successfully forced the issue offensively when the Celtics had no life and earned 12 trips to the foul line, of which he converted 10. His hustle at the defensive end turned into three steals, a couple of deflections, several more rebounds and a bunch of chances for the Celtics to get out and run. All of this is great, and I've got no desire to play the second-guessing game with regard to Doc not going back to Stephon Marbury in the second half.
- That said, Rondo's brain appeared to be on another planet once again. He committed several foolish turnovers (firing the ball off Ray Allen at point-blank range and temporarily losing what The Guru angrily refers to as his game of steal-the-bacon with Rafer Alston as well as a few others come to mind), shot the ball horrifically from the field and was bailed out on at least one of those foul calls when he chose to attack one-on-four against the Orlando defense. Combine this with the business of throwing Kirk Hinrich into the scorer's table last week and then picking up a technical in Game 7 against Chicago as well as some of his late-game shot attempts in that series, and I'm a bit miffed at his decision-making as of late. To put it nicely.
- At the end of the day, the Magic played a little more than half a game, and the Celtics played a little less than half a game, and that was the difference.