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Disgusting Defensive Display

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The Boston Celtics put on a reprehensible defensive display last night in Orlando.

The numbers are ugly enough: The Celts allowed the Magic to shoot 59 percent from the field and 50 percent from the three-point while sending the home folks to the foul line 36 times.  But this went beyond good execution and shooting from the Magic (who deserve plenty of credit on those two fronts) in Orlando's 117-96 Game 3 victory.

On every imaginable defensive concept, the Celtics appeared clueless.  Guards - in particular one point guard heralded for his defense - did not keep ball-handlers in front of them.  Bigs were forced to decide between a rock and a hard place on penetrate-and-kick sets and often chose standing in the middle.  For as good as he has been of late, Brian Scalabrine found himself entirely over-matched by both Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu for the night.  Nobody could avoid picking up silly fouls.

I can't remember the last game when I walked away thinking about so many specific plays standing out as utter defensive embarrassments.  These were the sorts of moments that epitomized the Celtics' night at that end of the floor:

With nine seconds remaining in the first half, Eddie House hits a three to cut the Magic lead to 10.  Rajon Rondo proceeds to let Tyronn Lue - playing his first minute of the postseason - take an unobstructed path to just outside the left elbow for a wide-open 20-footer to end the half.

Early in the second half, Dwight Howard extends the Orlando lead to 15 with an uncontested dunk from the left block.  This happens because Kendrick Perkins leaves Howard to commit to stopping Anthony Johnson's penetration through the middle of the lane.  The replay shows that happens because rather than playing defense with his feet, Rondo allows Johnson to beat him and settles for swiping for a steal from behind and hanging his center out to dry in the process.

In the opening minute of the fourth quarter, the Infuriated Infant picks up his fourth foul on an acrobatic Hedo Turkoglu lay-in and lands in a heap on top of Turkoglu.  This is facilitated by Turkoglu blowing past Paul Pierce at the right elbow.

The Infant sloughs off Rashard Lewis in the left corner on penetration by an Orlando guard.  Problem is, Glen Davis gives Lewis enough space that he won't be able to get back and contest a shot effectively while also only going halfway on his commitment to stopping the ball.  Lewis makes an easy catch and drains a three.

After the Celtics cut a 20-point deficit down to eight, Kendrick Perkins gives the Magic two foul shots and an extra possession with an away-from-the-ball elbow up high on Mickael Pietrus.  Flagrant foul.

Ray Allen allows Courtney Lee 15 feet of space in the right corner and stands and watches as Lee drains an open three.

All of those plays don't even include the aforementioned manhandling of Scal, who just couldn't stay with Lewis and couldn't keep Turkoglu from shooting over him.

Those moments were the standout lowlights, but the Celtics submitted a nearly wire-to-wire awful defensive performance.  That needs to not happen again on Sunday.

Now that I'm done reaming out the defense, some other game thoughts:

  • When he was on the floor, Dwight Howard dominated this game.  The Magic's fourth-quarter run without him (due to foul trouble) put the game away, but Howard's efficiency on offense and complete ownership of the paint on defense set the tone throughout the first two and a half quarters.  He made a great reverse pivot move to throw down a nasty facial on Perk in the first half as well.
  • Anthony Johnson's baseline drive for a dunk early in this game sent off "bad omen" warning flares all over the place.
  • Paul Pierce had a poor first half, and his field-goal percentage for the night was nothing to write home about, but he attacked the rim hard in the second half, repeatedly earned his way to the foul line and made all 14 attempts.  That's more like it.
  • Courtney Lee looked solid at both ends of the floor in his return.  Cool mask, too.
  • Rough night finishing around the rim for the Infant.
  • Rough night finishing from distance for Ray Allen.
  • The Perk-to-Rondo inbounds turnover in the first half was an atrocity.
  • We'll get to Jon Barry in a bit, but I did think he was spot-on in his assessment that the sooner Rajon Rondo either commits to going all the way to the rim more often or gets comfortable enough to take a traditional off-two-feet pull-up jumper in the lane, the better.  As opposed to the floater, that is.
  • Kudos to Lewis and Turkoglu for dominating offensively.  Both took advantage of mismatches all night long, hitting threes, pulling up for jumpers and getting to the bucket as well.  The result: a combined 17-for-29 from the field to go with 13-for-15 foul shooting and 52 points between them.
  • At some point in the second half, several green shirts watched the ball bounce twice after an Orlando miss without bothering to pick it up.  A Magic player came flying in for a late offensive board.
  • Stephon Marbury played the last 2:34 of the third quarter, and he did a good job playing the Orlando ball-handlers all the way up the floor, sliding his feet and keeping his man in front of him.  While Rajon Rondo deserves credit for making the read and steal on the attempted pass to Courtney Lee that R2 dunked to end the quarter, Marbury made his contribution to that play by forcing Anthony Johnson to pick up his dribble on the left sideline just inside halfcourt.  The Celtics outscored the Magic over those two and a half minutes, 12-2.
  • Jon Barry was slightly less atrocious than the Celtics last night.  Slightly.  Apparently, he received news five prior to ESPN's broadcast that the Celtics would not have the services of Kevin Garnett.
  • Postscript, re: Barry: There's a good chance I thought he was worse than he actually was thanks to the foul mood in which I found myself throughout this game.  I have no long-standing complaints about Barry.  A good comparison for this would be last year's Game 3 against Atlanta, incidentally the last time I muted the television during a Celtics game before last night.  While I'm still not much for the Dan Shulman-Doris Burke team, if you told me that night that those two were responsible for poverty, war and the depletion of the ozone layer, I wouldn't have blinked.  In truth, they aren't quite that bad.  Moral of the story: Losing makes me cranky.
  • Eddie House is awesome.
  • Finally, a somber personal note: One of my closest friends lost his father this week after an 11-month bout with cancer.  While I don't think I needed the reminder, it was easy especially easy to remember last night that no matter what happens on the court, what means most to me about basketball is getting the chance to share the experience with The Guru.  I'm thankful to be fortunate enough to have the opportunity to do so and can't imagine the pain of those who have experienced that sort of loss.  Rest in peace, Big Bob.

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