It was the third disappointing Friday night in a row at the TD Garden, as the Boston Celtics fell to the Orlando Magic, 83-79.
Again, the Celtics failed to show up in the first quarter, allowing the Magic to score 29 points, while they could only muster up 13. For that reason, they spent the rest of the game playing catch-up, and could never gain the lead for the rest of the game.
The Celtics shot only 34.5% from the field, including 2-19 from 3-point range. Rasheed Wallace contributed to that by going 0-8 from behind the arc, missing several open looks in the process.
"We played for three quarters, that's what it came down to," Paul Pierce said. "You're talking about a team that shot 60-70% from the floor in the first quarter, and for the game 41%."
While Pierce points to a poor first quarter performance as the main reason for the loss tonight, coach Doc Rivers feels that it isn't just the first quarter that the Celtics perform poorly in, it's throughout the game.
"I just think our team's playing awful overall," Rivers stated. "I don't think it's the beginning of the games. I've been saying it for a week now. We're making up stuff on the floor on offense and defense. We're not executing. We're not trusting each other. And we're going to win games still, but we're not going to win against good teams."
"We have to go out there and put minutes of good defense together," said Rasheed Wallace. "It comes in spurts with us. We get down a couple points then we decide alright we're going to play now then once we play, get back into it, then we might let up a little bit or we might not. So we just have to get our consistency together and put good minutes of defense together."
Rivers make a good point there. Three of the four Celtics losses have come against the best teams in the league right now. The Hawks, Suns, and Magic have come into the Garden the past three Fridays and taken it to the Celtics. For a team trying to win a championship, that is unacceptable. When the playoffs come around, it will be teams like the Magic and Hawks that the Celtics will have to worry about, not the Bobcats and Jazz.
Questions may also arise over certain lineups that were used during the game. Mikael Pietrus scored 11 points in the first quarter, including 3-3 from behind the arc with Pierce defending him. Ray Allen was defending Vince Carter to start the game, but only lasted six minutes after picking up his second foul.
Rajon Rondo sat for all but 41-seconds in the fourth quarter while Eddie House was in the game. Also sitting in the fourth quarter was Kendrick Perkins, who picked up his fifth foul with 7:25 to play in the third quarter and sat for the remainder of the game. Rasheed Wallace played the remaining 19:25 of the game. Pierce and Garnett didn't touch the floor in the fourth quarter until the 6:25 mark. With so many lineup options, the "mad scientist" is left with the difficult task of deciding what the best lineup is in a given situation, and dealing with the results.
"If you're in Doc's situation then, damned if you do, damned if you don't," Rasheed Wallace explained. "If you don't have (Rajon) Rondo in there then you're going to have people, mainly the media, ‘Aw, Doc, why didn't you have Rondo in there sooner?' Then if you do have Rondo in there, ‘Oh, why do you have Rondo in there so long? Why do you have Kevin (Garnett) in there so long?' So it is sort of a gift and a curse."
While Rondo was clearly not on his game tonight, Doc is not pointing a finger directly at him, but at the team as a whole.
"It's not on Rondo... As a group we have to play better," Rivers said. "But listen, Rondo didn't play well today. He's been pretty good for the most part; he won the game for us the other night."
"We are functioning well with two or three guys at one time, and four guys at one time," Rivers continued. "And every once and a while when we get the right mix of guys on there- and right now God knows who that's going to be before the game."
After the Celtics tied the game in the fourth, Vince Carter's turnaround fade away jump shot would put the Magic back ahead for good. Carter killed the Celtics all night, ending with 26 points, six rebounds, and six assists, including 10 points in the fourth quarter. With Hedu Turkoglu out, and Vince Carter in, the Magic are more dangerous on the offensive end.
"Carter is a much more established scorer than (Hedu) Turkoglu," Pierce said. "Turkoglu brings what he brings, he's definitely fit their system over the last couple of years. Carter I think brings a different element because he does a lot of things Turkoglu can do and you also can isolate him along the post. He's more of an established scorer. He's one of the best scorers in the history of the game. They're going to get better as time goes along, but you know we're going to get better."