Posted by Matt Moore
Welcome back, Kevin Garnett. And welcome back, playoff atmosphere, TD Northbank Garden. And welcome back, Celtics closing out big games. After the Celtcs blew a sizeable lead on Christmas to the Magic, they turned the tables on Orlando Monday night, with Kevin Garnett at the center of it all. Garnett snatched a huge steal to seize the game, throwing the outlet to Ray Allen who managed to run off several seconds before being fouled with the C's up 3. Celtics defeat Magic, 109-106 .
But Garnett's play was so much more than that in his return. And it was more than the 19 points and 8 rebounds he put in on the stat sheet. The defensive energy picked up as Garnett started barking orders, and the Big 3 looked very much like the components who ripped through the Eastern Conference last year with Rondo also doing his part. But it was the Big 3 who sealed this. Pierce with a combination of his patented pump-fake to draw the foul and his patented corner jumper set the Celtics up for their three-point advantage, but it was Ray Allen constantly nailing tough jumpers off multiple screens which allowed the Celtics to match Orlando three-for-three. Then Garnett with the steal, and that's your game.
So the question you're left with, after all the history between these two teams, and with the season series knotted at 1-1 is this: Does Boston respect Orlando? And the feeling you get is no. Not at all. Not even now.
Kevin Garnett was his usual bullying, screaming, spitting self, and at one point he and Dwight Howard had a staredown of sorts which epitomized the two players. Garnett mouthing and snapping like a guard dog, staring down Howard. Howard laughing and confused at what Garnett was doing. In the end, Howard walked away, which you'd criticize him for, if it weren't for his technical foul situation and the need for him to stay in the game. But it was very much a study in contrast of personality, if not character. Garnett not only refuses to back down to anyone, but constantly chests into everyone. He'll start a confrontation with anyone (the question of him ending said conflicts is another, more complicated issue that involves a lot of "hands up, walk away" behavior). Howard on the other hand, is smiling, pleasant, still the laughing man-child, even as his status as a franchise leader requires more out of him. And perhaps for that, along with the equally complicated issue of how the officials treat both teams, Boston continues to appear to take Orlando as a second-rate squad.
For all the success, Orlando's had, Boston holds this attitude still. After the Magic were eliminated from the Finals in 2009, Paul Pierce referred to the Magic as "poodles." This after Orlando had eliminated the Celtics in seven games without the services of Kevin Garnett, which allowed both the teams and the fans to dismiss the win entirely. This despite the Magic also having considerable regular season success against the Celtics as well, and eliminating the Celtics on their home floor in a Game 7. But the fact they needed seven games spoke loudly to many. That attitude was furthered when Boston easily dispatched Orlando in the 2010 playoffs. So the two have quite a bit of history, even with all the changes to both teams, and yet there is still an attitude gap with Boston.
But that could be more about the Celtics in general than the Magic specifically. There's a begrudging respect for the Lakers after being defeated by them last spring. But the Celtics rely on their brash, overtly physical, cocky attitude to take over games mentally. To surrender that attitude with any measure of respect would decrease their edge.
So what will it take for Orlando to win Boston's respect? No amount of regular season wins, or close losses, will do it. They have to topple them in the playoffs, with the Celtics at full-strength. And with Kendrick Perkins close to returning, Delonte West back soon after that, and the C's still capable of that extra gear that blasted them through the entire East last year, it's hard to see Orlando hitting that gear. Respect has to be earned, and the Magic need so much to go right in order for them to do just that.
Some final game notes:
- Bizarre game for Jason Richardson. Started off terribly, forcing shots and looking lost in his role. Then he started to step into shots in the second half, and looked on his way to a solid game. Then he was put on Ray Allen for a long stretch in the fourth instead of J.J. Redick (who may be the best Ray Allen defender in the league), and Allen just destroyed him. He had no idea how to handle him or the multitude of screens the Celtics routinely send Allen off.
- That Allen wound up 8-11 shows you how good he is. J.J. Redick was right with him on every attempt when he was on the floor, but Allen adjusted, even hitting shots off the dribble.
- The Celtics' bench was horrific tonight, with Marquis Daniels, Nate Robinson, and Luke Harangody combining for a -17.
- Ryan Anderson was the story in the first half for the Magic, but the Celtics adjusted rapidly in the second half, allowing Davis to extend further than his usual range to guard him on the perimeter. Then, when Anderson attempted to dribble around Davis and his round mound, help was constantly there, either from the corner or the elbow. Just enough to take a not-great-dribbler off his dribble and end the possession. Great adjustment by Doc Rivers.
- Gilbert Arenas showed signs of life. Two, to be exact.
- Shaquille O'Neal is getting so much credit from people for his play. And while the offensive work with Rondo is nice (who can't score with Rondo helping you?), O'Neal had as many turnovers as rebounds Monday night. Two.
- Dwight Howard was great on offense (33 points) and did his work on the glass (13). But zero blocks for the reigning defensive player of the year and he was missed inside on several possessions. Howard seemed to A. want to avoid early fouls and B. want to extend too much to attack the Celtics at the point of paint penetration, instead of managing the rim defense.