If the Celtics were a tradable stock, their third quarter reports would prompt stockholders to sell, fast.
The Celtics came out of the half up by eleven points on the Magic. They matched that number by only scoring eleven points in the third quarter. Rajon Rondo's three-pointer at 7:16 in the third quarter was the last field goal the Celtics would hit that quarter, as the Magic then went on a 25-2 run. When the dust cleared, it was 76-62 Magic, a 25 point swing in one quarter.
"I thought we played like crap," Coach Doc Rivers said. "And in the third quarter I thought everything we did in the first half we decided not to do. And I told them when I called a time out, ‘We're doing our own thing; we're going to lose the game.' I thought we lacked discipline."
"There's no excuses for that," said Kevin Garnett. "There's no answers for that and we just got to lock in. For some reason, third quarters have been kicking our behinds this year. We just got to get better at it, period."
With the loss, the Celtics fall to 23-12 when leading or tied at halftime.
"I think right now when you look at our team, and I say it, ‘I love our team on paper.' But we tend to be front-runners- when we get a good lead we relax and teams take advantage of it and then you're caught," Rivers said. "And it's tough to turn it back on."
While the starters can take all the credit for blowing the lead, the bench wasn't able to right the ship when called upon either. The Magic shot 12/17 for 71% in the quarter, while the Celtics almost had more turnovers (8) than points. Despite attempts to mount a comeback in the fourth quarter, the Celtics could never get it closer than seven points, losing 96-89 to the Magic. The loss gives them a 1-3 record against the Magic this season, which will sit right next to their 0-4 record against the Hawks. Doc Rivers knows they'll need to beat those teams before they can consider themselves better than them.
"One of the guys said, ‘We're better than Orlando.' And I said, ‘No you're not. That's a bunch of crap. They beat you three games, two at your place. They're better. They knocked you out of the playoffs last year.' Orlando's better than us right now. Atlanta's better than us right now. L.A.'s better than us right now. Those are the teams that have beaten us. That doesn't mean that we can't be better than them at some point, but right now, those teams are better than us."
The Celtics are now 14-12 against teams that are .500+ on the day of the game, a much more telling record than that of their 32-17 record. Thanks to the weak division they play in, they'll cruise into the playoffs, but just getting there isn't enough. They have yet to prove they can keep up with the legitimate teams in the league. It's a good thing the NBA doesn't use BCS scoring, because I'm not sure the Celtics would get into one of the major bowl games. They have no big wins to show for.
"We're getting leads," said Rondo. "We're still hungry, it's just when we get up it's not the same focus, just both ends of the floor."
Asked whether or not this team has the right to say they are as good as some of the teams that have beaten them, Rondo then replied, "We have no right. We're clearly not playing well right now, can't keep making excuses about injuries or other excuses. I mean, we're just not getting the job done."
"They beat us. It's all about what's in the pudding, and right now we don't have the proof."
If you can take any positives out of this last tough stretch of games, it is that there is still plenty of time to right some wrongs. Despite the loss, this was the first game all season that the Celtics had all of their main rotation players healthy at the same time.
"We're not by any means hanging our heads," continued Allen, "because whatever it is, we're all ready to take whatever criticism we need to take personally or as a team to try to figure out the third quarter, or just whatever lacks we have in any particular game to try and pick it up."
Daniels makes impressive return
Marquis Daniels looked solid in his first game back since surgery on his thumb, and could really be the bridge from the starters to the bench that the Celtics have lacked as of late.
"Coach wanted me to come out and be aggressive. I just wanted to come out and do the regular things I normally do. They were giving me the shots and I was just trying to take them, and be aggressive."
Daniels scored six points early in the second quarter, as the second unit was able to keep up with the Magic before the starters came in later in the quarter.
"Marquis played phenomenal," Rivers said. "I got to tell you I was shocked by that. I wasn't going to play him, that's how I thought he looked in practice but he was terrific."
Daniels is able to do a lot of things on this team, and act sort of as the utility player. He is comfortable playing either guard position as well as small forward. His versatility is just what a veteran team like the Celtics need. He was signed to come in and give Paul Pierce and Ray Allen rest, while still providing the production necessary to remain competitive. Cleary, the Celtics have been missing that as of late, so is return could not have come at a better time.
"He played terrific for us," said Rajon Rondo, "we didn't expect him to play that well tonight especially being gone nine months- I joked about it with him on the bench being gone so long. We definitely missed ‘Quis and we're glad he's back now and hope he can stay healthy. He gave us a big lift off the bench especially exploiting mismatches with the backups that they brought in."