Paul Pierce alluded to something important in his post game press conference following the Celtics' 92-88 win over the Orlando Magic in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals when he said:
"We feel like we want to get up into their shooters and not allow them to get free looks. We feel like we've got guys who can cover Dwight (Howard) such as (Kendrick Perkins), Rasheed (Wallace), and (Glen Davis) one-on-one, so that allows us to get up on their shooters and be a little bit more aggressive and not allow us to open up their three-point game. So I think that's going to be the key for us throughout the rest of this series."
Shutting down Orlando's three-point shooters will be crucial for the Celtics throughout this series, since so much of the Magic's offense revolves around the three-point shot.
In the first round against the Charlotte Bobcats, 43.6 percent of Orlando's total field goal attempts were three-pointers, and 35.6 percent of it's total points in that series came via three-point baskets.
Against the Hawks in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals, those numbers dipped slightly, as 38.8 percent of the Magic's total field goal attempts were three-pointers, while 30.7 percent of it's total points throughout that four-game sweep came via three-point nation.
Again, the numbers were slightly lower against Atlanta, but through the first two rounds of the postseason, basically 40 percent of Orlando's field goal attempts were three-pointers, which accounted for approximately one-third of it's total points.
Odds are the Magic aren't going to suddenly change their offensive identity just because they are playing the Celtics. Orlando still jacked up 22 three-pointers in Game 1, but made just five of them, and both those numbers are playoff lows for the men in blue. As Pierce said in the quote above, they key for the Celtics is not double-teaming Dwight Howard in the paint, as sinking in on him down low opens things up for Orlando's perimeter shooters.
Kendrick Perkins's value in this series skyrockets, as he's Boston's first option who can go toe-to-toe with Howard on the defensive end without needing any help from his teammates. He's the ideal combination of strength and size as he's only giving up an inch to Howard (Perk's listed at 6'10 while Howard comes in at 6'11) and weighs 15 pounds more (280 lbs. for Perk compared to 265 lbs. for Howard). Through the first two rounds, Howard dealt with guys like Theo Ratliff, Nazr Mohammed, Tyson Chandler, and Al Horford, who all dealt with either significant height or weight disadvantages when placed next to the Orlando center. You probably came across the stat yesterday on the front page, but Howard shot just 1-7 from the field when he was being guarded by Perk in Game 1.
Both Rasheed Wallace and Glen Davis played respectable defense on Howard as well, but Howard's still much stronger than 'Sheed (he's got 30 pounds on him), and has a few inches on Davis. Regardless of their respective deficiencies, they can still make Howard's life difficult down low by playing that aggressive, extremely physical brand of defense that we saw in Game 1, which appeared to thoroughly discombobulate Howard and take him out of the game from a mental stand point (he started complaining to the refs and sending the looks of desperation to Stan Van Gundy on the sideline. You've got to love SVG's response to one of those looks with nothing more than an unconcerned shrug of the shoulders which basically said: "Hey, you're the All-NBA Center, you figure it out."), and by getting a little crafty at times, using moves like the pull-the-chair-out-from-under-him-while-he's-backing-down, which we saw from Rasheed. What of course helps both Rasheed and Davis is the fact that Howard's post game still seems primitive at times, and he's only a 60 percent free throw shooter to boot.
Because Boston has three legitimate options who can combat Howard one-on-one (Shelden Williams, stay ready, regardless), it allows the four other Celtics on the floor to worry about Orlando's perimeter shooters, as having a versatile guy like Rashard Lewis at the power forward spot gives the Magic up to four credible threats from the nation at any given time. Not having to sag into the paint to help on Howard gives the Celtics better chances of closing out and contesting Orlando's three-point shooters. If you look at Orlando's roster, the only two guys who will see consistent minutes who won't shoot threes are Howard and Marcin Gortat. Contesting Orlando's shooters will be crucial throughout the series, and the best chance at that is by not doubling down on Howard.
According to Doc Rivers, the C's double-teamed Howard three times in Game 1, and all three times the Magic ended up scoring:
"We double-teamed three times and they scored all three times, when we were not supposed to double team," said Rivers. "Then dribble penetration. Jameer killed us off the dribble. We have to do a better job there."
One such instance came with 8:42 left in the fourth quarter. The Celtics led, 79-63, the ball got tossed into Howard, and I believe it was Ray Allen (although it could have been Rondo. My short term memory is failing me) who went down to double him, which led to Howard kicking the ball back out just to the right of the top of the key to Jason Williams, who rose up and buried a three-pointer. At that point in the game, Howard had just 10 points, and was showing no signs that he was about to explode on the offensive end and take the game over. I specifically remember screaming at the TV: "Why are you double-teaming him!?" Admit it, you were, too. And if you want to get technical, the Magic outscored the Celtics 22-13 after Williams hit that three-pointer.
The good news is the C's are clearly aware of all of this, which means they are hopefully poised to continue to find success in both of these areas tonight en route to taking a commanding 2-0 series lead.