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Celts Seal a Gutty Win the 50-50 Way

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The Celtics' 92-88 Game 5 win over the Orlando Magic didn't feature a lot of pretty basketball.  The good guys' basket seemed to be roughly the size of a keyhole for most of the contest.  The fouls and jumping at head-fakes on both sides weren't attractive.  The Magic's offensive execution (aided by a suddenly awakened Celtics defense) down the stretch was downright grisly. 

With each new win in the 2009 playoffs for a Celtics team playing without its Hall-of-Famer-to-be defensive leader as well as a key reserve big man, this group gives us more reason to be proud of the size of its heart and level of its determination.  That makes it all the more fitting that the Celtics clinched this game thanks in no small part to the way they fought for loose balls in the waning moments.

Rebounding a basketball is a test of will.  It's about using one's body against another's to fight for the best position possible and then chasing down the orange sphere as it comes off the rim.  Rebounding is work.

More than at any other point, with one minute remaining in Game 5, the Celtics went to work.

After Rafer Alston missed a three-pointer with the Celtics ahead by one, Rajon Rondo outraced two blue jerseys to the left corner, tracked the ball down and had the presence of mind to heave it off Dwight Howard and out of bounds before stepping off the court himself.  This gave the Celtics their first possession with the lead since midway through the first quarter.

The Celtics followed that Rondo save with a putrid possession that ended with Rondo flinging up a three-pointer from a step behind the line as the shot clock expired.  Whether the ball actually hit the rim remains up for debate, but when it came down, it was Kendrick Perkins who found himself positioned all alone under the basket to corral the board as the buzzer sounded. This gave the Celtics a chance to retain possession while the referees debated overturning the initial call of a shot clock violation.  They did.  Celtics ball.

Another 24 seconds of unproductive ball control later, Ray Allen got off a rushed turnaround that hit the rim without question.  While Dwight Howard failed to adequately box out, Perk rushed in from the right block and back-tapped the ball out to the perimeter.  Paul Pierce tracked it down outside the three-point circle and drew the Magic's final foul to give.

Despite two horrendous sets with the ball, two offensive rebounds allowed the Celtics to manage to get from the one-minute mark to resetting with the shot clock off and a one-point lead while never relinquishing possession.  As a result, the Magic would not get another possession with the Celtics' leading by less than three.

Finally, with Dwight Howard shooting his second free throw after making the first to cut the lead to two, the Infuriated Infant took care of business.  Without any timeouts, the Magic needed an intentional miss and a putback to tie the game in the final five seconds.  Glen Davis came across the lane to clear out Marcin Gortat and another blue shirt as he secured the rebound and drew a foul.  Two shots later, the Celts led by four and were headed to a 3-2 series lead.

With the game on the line, the green refused to be denied the basketball.  Or the win.

Ugly feels awfully good right about now.

Notes from a game that left me unable to do much but shake my head in disbelief (I can't imagine how Orlando fans feel today):

  • Thank you, Stephon Marbury: four jumpers (including a three), a dish to the Terrifying Toddler and then a three-point play in the paint, all in a span of five minutes and change.  At a time when most of the roster seemed allergic to the basket, Steph kept our boys within striking distance and gave the first string a fighting chance to pull this one out when it returned for the final five minutes.  Not bad for a guy playing in his first series outside the first round.
  • Kudos to Doc Rivers for playing his cards to perfection with his rotation in the fourth quarter.  After Steph's streak of five made field-goal attempts ended with a slightly out-of-control missed lay-up, Doc lifted him and returned Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce and Kendrick Perkins to the floor alongside fellow starters Glen Davis and Kendrick Perkins.  Fine use of Steph as a spark plug followed by the return to a lineup that went 4:47 without allowing a single point (while scoring 13 of their own) and the final 4:54 without allowing a field goal.
  • Again, the Celtics scored 13 straight points in the fourth quarter of this contest.  Cool.
  • Just as Reggie Miller said, you don't get back in games by trading baskets.  You make stops and let those stops spark offensive opportunities.  The Celtics' defense looked considerably less than stellar for most of the first three and a half quarters.  It clamped down in the final five minutes, and the results came.
  • As for the offensive struggles, some nights, teams just don't shoot the ball well.  While Ray Allen made a few head-scratching passes, for the most part I didn't find myself screaming at the television about turnovers (the team only committed eight for the game) or bad shots.  The Celtics did a lot of shooting and missing for a significant part of this game.  I'm glad beyond belief that they made just enough to scratch out a win.  Let's move on.
  • Rough night for Rajon Rondo.
  • By his standards, Rafer Alston had a fine night as a scorer...and he finished it 6-for-15 from the field and 2-for-6 on threes with all of three trips to the foul line for 16 points.  Yup, that's Rafer.
  • Speaking of Alston, Ray Allen made a dually effective defensive play to set up that Rondo save off Dwight Howard late in the fourth quarter.  With the Celtics up one, he slid to the lane just quickly enough not only to deflect an entry pass intended for Dwight Howard deep in the paint but to knock it straight out to an open Alston, who couldn't resist shooting the three.  And missing it.  Again, I'm all for encouraging this guy to try to beat ours from the outside.
  • I've said this multiple times before about Ray Allen, but it bears repeating today: I don't care how many shots in a row he misses.  If the Celtics can get him the ball curling around a screen in a big spot, roll the dice.  Perhaps more so than any player I've ever watched, I feel nothing but confidence every time he gets the ball with space regardless of how he is shooting at a given moment.  He hit two of his first 10 shots last night.  The eleventh was a no-doubter three off a curl to the right wing that gave the Celts their first lead since the first quarter and put the green ahead to stay.  Love this guy.
  • Hedo Turkoglu couldn't hit from beyond the arc but converted two well-executed three-point plays around the bucket.  He also got hit by approximately nine different Celtics on his left-side drive with the Magic up two and just outside two minutes remaining.
  • Make Dwight Howard make post moves.  Make Dwight Howard make post moves.  Make Dwight Howard make post moves.  Kendrick Perkins is doing exactly that.  And it's working.  I'll take 12 points on just 50 percent shooting from Howard any day.  Perk's yeoman defensive work in the post will be one of the great stories of this series, especially if the Celtics can hold on the rest of the way.  Never been prouder to root for him than I have been this postseason.
  • The Celtics' bigs (with the help of Doc) all managed their fouls effectively.  The Nasty Newborn entered the second quarter with no fouls, and none of the three bigs picked up more than four for the game.  No emergency center need apply.
  • Eddie House made a superb defensive play in the second quarter, jumping a passing lane to steal Anthony Johnson's dish to the left wing.  Took it all the way down floor for a nice scoop lay-in, too.  He and Brian Scalabrine combined for 12 of the Celtics' 21 points in the period.
  • Good to see Scal drain two threes and give the Celts another 18 minutes of hustle while fighting off flu symptoms.
  • Another poor shooting night for J.J. Redick.  He now stands at 2-for-12 from the field over the last two games.  Surprising.
  • The Celtics cut the Magic's lead to two with a classic there-is-no-justice possession late in the fourth: Rajon Rondo burst through the seam and missed a lay-up in transition, but Dwight Howard knocked the rebound out of bounds.  The Celts then proceeded to fumble and nearly lose the ball twice over the next 21 seconds before somehow getting the ball to Kendrick Perkins underneath for a lay-up.
  • The possession prior to the Perk basket, Rondo made a great read to Paul Pierce cutting along the baseline in traffic.  How PP finished the bucket remains a mystery to me.
  • Quietly beautiful game from the captain aaaaaand The Truth.  He got to the foul line (7-for-7), cleaned the glass (nine rebounds), and happily played the role of offensive facilitator (eight assists).  He gave this team just what it needed from him: a little bit of everything.
  • Watching Rashard Lewis disappear from the Magic's offense in the fourth quarter brought to mind this comment on yesterday's Daily Babble from CB devotee Who:

Out of all the top scorers in the league …. if you could choose one guy not to have a good cover for …. it has to be Rashard Lewis, right?

It’s like he puts a ceiling on how many points he’s allowed score. It doesn’t matter whether he has a golden matchup or a horrid matchup. He’s still not going to go buck wild and drop 30-35 points a night and give a series winning individual performance. Lewis is just going to plod along and give his usual 17-22 points a night and call it a good game.

Whether that's fair to Lewis' mentality or not, I'm not sure (and perhaps last night falls on Stan Van Gundy or Lewis' teammates for not getting him the ball more).  But either way, quite interesting timing for Who's comment.

  • Batman returns!  Four buckets for the one-time Jim O'Brien favorite.
  • Doc adjusted after Game 4 against Chicago and had the Celts foul in the final seconds while up three points.  It worked.  Especially against a team as trey-happy as the Magic, this seemed like the way to go (and I'm not always in the definitively pro-foul camp in that situation).  Another good call by the head man.
  • Talk about picking the right night to remove all complaints from the peanut gallery (read: me) about inconsistent foul shooting.  The Celts knocked down each and every one of their 21 free throw attempts.  Excellent.
  • Love me some Large Baby!  Baby hook shots over Dwight Howard (!!!), strong takes in the paint, a 6-for-6 performance from the stripe, four offensive rebounds...just a fine encore to follow up his game-winning heroics from Sunday.  The papoose is pugnacious!  The newborn is nasty!  The toddler is terrifying!  The infant is infuriated!

The Guru and I begin a halfway-across-the-country driving trip on Thursday morning.  But we'll be calling it a day before nightfall to find lodging so that we can watch our beloved green fellows try to clinch a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals.  Label me thrilled!

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