Celtics’ defense smothers Magic
Too old to chase a title? Not these days.
Ray Allen scored 25 points, Paul Pierce had 22 and the Celtics used smothering defense to beat the Orlando Magic, 92-88, on Sunday in the Eastern Conference finals opener.
Hampered by injuries, the Celtics literally limped their way through parts of the regular season. All that seems a distant memory now.
“I honestly say we lost ourselves,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “I think we’ve found ourselves again.”
Rasheed Wallace added 13 points as the Celtics built a 20-point lead, then held on late to snap Orlando’s 14-game winning streak. They held the Magic to 41 percent shooting—22 percent from three-point range—in displaying that rough and tough defense that was once their staple.
“There were stretches in the season, we know each other so well now, where we were becoming less patient with each other,” Allen said. “We were getting on each other a little too much. We can take it, but we respected each other.
“When we started the playoffs, we said teams are going to hit us, they’re going to attack us. But when somebody scores on us, which they will, we go get the ball out and come back.”
Vince Carter had 23 points and Jameer Nelson finished with 20 for Orlando, which cut the lead to two in the final seconds but simply ran out of time, looking rusty after a six-day layoff. Dwight Howard was limited to 13 points and 12 rebounds as Orlando lost for the first time since April 2 at San Antonio.
Game 2 in the best-of-seven series is Tuesday night in Orlando.
“I don’t think it was rusty. Just anxious,” Howard said. “We dug ourselves a hole, and it was tough to get back from.”
Showing no signs of age, the Celtics outhustled and outmuscled the Magic at every step defensively. They pushed and pulled their way around the paint, slowing Howard for most of the game.
The Magic lost for the first time since April 2 at San Antonio.
“Our guys aren’t going to like fall apart,” Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. “Hell, they got down 20 in this game and they didn’t collapse. That’s not our team. This is all about winning. Our team doesn’t have to prove they can bounce back from adversity and all of that. They’ve done all that.”