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Magic a problem without KG

03.08.09 at 4:37 pm ET
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The Boston Celtics have made winning without Kevin Garnett look easy. LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers? Not a problem. Shaq and the Phoenix Suns? No sweat. Carmelo Anthony and the Denver Nuggets? Blowout. But then there is Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic. That’s where the Celtics run into trouble.

The Celtics were 8-2 this season without Garnett (knee) heading into Sunday’s game. Last year they went 9-2 without him. The Cs have hardly missed a beat, except when playing the Magic. In spite of their success, they are 0-2 against the Magic without Garnett.

“They’re a tough team with or without KG,” Dwight Howard said after the Magic’s 86-79 win. (RECAP HERE) “So I think the biggest thing is just trying to match their play on both ends and be physical with them like they’re going to be physical with us. Also knowing that KG is one of their big guys on the defensive end, just go at them and just make them pay.”

The Celtics first loss to the Magic without Garnett (96-93) came on January 27, 2008. Unable to stop the Magic’s big men, Howard posted 18 points and 16 rebounds while Rashard Lewis scored 15 points. On Sunday, Howard posted 18 points and 15 rebounds with Lewis adding 15 points.

“[Garnett's] a good player and he plays hard,” said Hedo Turkoglu. “We just try to take advantage of it. Tonight we just tried to move the ball and make a lot of free throws and make the big men play. Rashard and Dwight took care of the mismatches.”

It isn’t just the absence of Garnett’s 16 points and nearly nine boards a game that helps the Magic. The void of his intensity and energy cannot be denied.

“He’s pretty much their heart and soul of the team,” Tony Battie said. “You can’t forget about (Kendrick) Perkins and Big Baby and (Leon) Powe. They do a great job of filling in for him but it’s hard to replace an All-Star in this league. Not only that, but just his presence and leadership on the court, it’s hard to make up for it. Physically those guys can fill the void but his presence is something they probably miss.”

Both teams were missing pieces on Sunday. The Celtics were also without Rajon Rondo (ankle), Tony Allen (thumb), and Brian Scalabrine (concussion). Glen Davis left the game with a sprained right ankle. The Magic were without Jameer Nelson (shoulder), who also missed last season’s win.

Regardless of their 2-0 record, the Magic still give the Celtics credit.

“All five guys, whoever steps on the floor, they’re all dangerous,” said Howard. “Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, those guys can light it up. Their bigs are getting better every day. Kendrick did a Kareem shake tonight. It shocked me, but that just shows me that those guys have really been working on their game and they’ve gotten a lot better.”

The Magic’s win brings them within two games of the Celtics for second place in the Eastern Conference. The teams will meet again on March 25 in Orlando.

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Celts are beaten and beaten up

03.08.09 at 4:06 pm ET
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When Big Baby Davis hobbled off the court late in the third quarter, his right ankle throbbing, the Celtics bench consisted of the following players: Stephon Marbury, Mikki Moore, Gabe Pruitt, Bill Walker and J.R. Giddens.

In other words, two guys who weren’t even with the team two week ago, two rookies who hardly play and a second-year  guard who seen the court since his DUI arrest. “We missed everybody who was not out there,” Paul Pierce said. “It just seems like every game bodies are going down.”

Add Baby to the list that includes Kevin Garnett, who is out at least another week with a knee strain, Brian Scalabrine and Tony Allen who are out considerably longer and Rajon Rondo who missed the game with a sprained right ankle that swelled up over night.

Take all that into account, add in the fact that the C’s sleep-walked through the first half like they hadn’t set their clocks for daylight savings time and it’s a minor miracle that with under a minute to go, Ray Allen had a chance to tie the game with a 3-pointer in the corner. (Click here for a recap).

Allen, who made just about everything else in the fourth quarter had to slightly adjust the trajectory of his shot with all 7-feet of Dwight Howard charging into him. His shot on-line, but not true.

Allen scored 17 of his 32 points in the fourth quarter, but true to form, it was the ones he missed that will stay with him. “There were three shots I missed tonight,” Allen said. “Those are three shots, honestly, those are my shots. I know when I get on the floor (to practice) I’ll take those shots.”

The veteran that he is, Allen knows that to spend too much time worrying about what might have been won’t do him any good, which is exactly the situation the Celtics find themselves in at this very moment. Less than 48 hours after the high of the Cleveland game, they crash-landed into the reality that for the forseeable future they will have to make do with what they have.

“Somehow we have to get through the rest of the season,” said Pierce who passed Robert Parish for third on the franchise’s all-time scoring list. “So I think the most important thing right now is grinding out these games and trying to get healthy going into the playoffs. That’s our focus–getting the guys that need to be healthy out onto the court, because once the playoffs start we are going to need everybody if we are going to make this run.”

At this point no one is sure how long Rondo and Davis will be out. Garnett is targeting next Sunday at Milwaukee at the earliest for his return, but as Doc Rovers cautioned before the game, that’s only an estimate.

“Obviously we want home court,” Rivers said. “But we believe we can win on the road. We have to be healthy to win. If Kevin needs another week, we’re going to give him another week. If Rondo needs a week, we’re going to give him a week.”

The injuries impacted several crucial decisions that Rivers made Sunday, but the biggest was the move to start Stephon Marbury ahead of Eddie House. Afterward Rivers second-guessed himself, saying his instinct was to start House, who has a better understanding of the system, so as not to affect Pierce and Allen.

With Marbury at the controls in the first quarter, the Celtics sputtered and scored just 15 points. While not entirely his fault, ball movement was virtually non-existent and sets didn’t develop as planned. In 20 minutes, he had just four points, no assists and three turnovers and admitted to some frustration. It is far too early to judge Marbury on the court, but it is fair to say that he has a long way to go.

“Like I told you guys, he’s not going to be as good as his first game,” Rivers said. “And it’s going to take a while.”

The flip side to all of that is the only way for Marbury to get acclimated to his new team is to “burn minutes,” as Rivers said, and the extra playing time for Leon Powe, Moore, Davis, et al might prove beneficial down the road.  To their credit the Celtics have not made excuses for the injuries and the fourth quarter run was inspiring, if draining; Pierce and Allen played a combined 91 minutes.

“I don’t take the mentality that we are hanging on,” Allen said. “It’s a great opportunity to get valuable minutes because the deeper we are in the playoffs the better we will be as a team. It only makes us better.”

That may wind up being true, but right now the Celtics would gladly exchange on the job experience for a few more healthy bodies.

**************

It wasn’t exactly the way he might have liked it to happen, but when Pierce moved passed Parish on the Celtics all-time scoring list he further cemented his standing among the greatest ever to wear the uniform. The only players ahead of Pierce now are Larry Bird and John Havlicek.

“It’s great when you pass one of the all-time great Celtics, a Hall of Fame player,” Pierce said. “I’ve had the opportunity to play with the same franchise for quite a while now, so to be mentioned among those guys at the top is really an honor.”

Pierce is well aware of the tradition of the franchise of course, and so he understands that those honors take new meaning for his legacy now that he has a championship. “It would look odd when you look at the record books, 20, 30 years from now and say, ‘Bird, Havlicek, Paul Pierce, Robert Parish’ and guys will be like, ‘Who’s Paul Pierce?’” the Captain joked. “So it definitely helps.”

The reality is Pierce’s career is strong enough to stand on its own, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.

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Sounds of the game… Magic 86, Celtics 79

03.08.09 at 4:00 pm ET
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It was clear from the start that the Celtics missed Rajon Rondo. To a man, afterward, everyone was quick to give Stephon Marbury props for doing his best, but Marbury has only been in Green for nine days. It’s hard to expect someone, even of his talent, to just step in and replace Rondo, who did not dress with a sprained right ankle.

Marbury got his first start but the Celtics were out of rhythm from the start, falling behind by 20 in the first half and commiting 11 turnovers.

Ray Allen led a furious fourth-quarter comeback but it fell short in the end as his three-pointer to tie with 35 seconds remaining was off the mark and the Celtics fell, 86-79.

Marbury said these games right now are still practice for him.

Ray Allen said the team missed Rondo early.

Allen, with a game-high 32 points, tried to pick up the scoring slack.

Paul Pierce, with 16 points, talked about passing Robert Parish for third on the team’s all-time scoring list.

Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy said the Celtics were able to get away with physical play on Dwight Howard, starting with Kendrick Perkins’ shoves in the back.

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Celtics-Magic Game Blog: Fourth Quarter

03.08.09 at 1:54 pm ET
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At the start of the fourth quarter … Magic 69, Celtics 56

- The good news for Celtics fans is, the Celtics cut the Magic’s lead to 13. The bad news is, they were only able to get within 13 without Dwight Howard on the court. Howard and Rashard Lewis picked up their fourth personal fouls in the third and coach Stan Van Gundy is saving them for late in the game. Both are starting the fourth quarter. The Celtics window of opportunity may just closed.

- There is life in the Garden again. The Magic turned the ball over out of bounds on two consecutive posessions, helping the Celtics get back within 10.

- Rookie initiation for Courtney Lee. Ray Allen is running circles around him this quarter.

- Pierce passed Robert Parish to become the third all-time leading scorer in franchise history with 18,246 points.

- There seems to be an argument everytime the ball goes out of bounds. So far, though, no technicals have been handed out.

- The Celtics may be down by seven with three minutes to go but they are in control of this game right now. Ray Allen has exploded for 13 points in the fourth quarter and the Magic are falling short on the offensive end.

- Suddenly it’s a three-point game with just over a minute to go.

- Both teams are trying to win from long range.

- Final score … Magic 86, Celtics 79

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Celtics-Magic Game Blog: Third Quarter

03.08.09 at 1:25 pm ET
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Here’s your hard-hitting analysis on the first half: Blech. The Celtics were outplayed, outrebounded, out-defended, out-everything’d. Do they have a run in them? We should find out soon.

THIRD QUARTER WRAP: The intensity was back on the defensive end for the Celtics, but they are still down 13, 69-56, and Ray Allen and Paul Pierce have played 67 of a possible 72 minutes so far. They’ve put themselves in position to make one more run at this, but it had better happen quickly.

Third Quarter Observations

– Something tells me the C’s got read the riot act in the locker room at halftime. The job for them this quarter is to get it into single digits. Every shot they have taken in the first two and a half minutes, even the ones they’ve missed, have been better shots than they got in the first half.

– There’s a break. Dwight Howard just got his fourth foul. He has been killing the Celtics inside.

– Baby now has five fouls. And he’s limping as he comes off the floor and being carried to the locker room by Eddie Lacerte and JR Giddens.

– Give the Celtics this: They have picked up the intensity on defense, but all it takes is a jumper here or there by Rashard Lewis or Hedo Turkoglu to wipe out a solid three-minute stretch.

– The Celtics undersized front line looks downright lilliputian compared to Orlando’s brick wall of Howard, Marcin Gortat and Tony Battie. Gortat looks like he should be an extra in a Guy Ritchie film, by the way.

– Got to give Ray Allen credit as well. He’s been about the only positive for the Celtics, but at what point does Doc cut his losses and give Allen and Paul Pierce some extended bench time? He’s down to 10 healthy players and two of them are Bill Walker and Giddens, not exactly rotation mainstays.

– Here’s the update on Big Baby: He has a right ankle sprain and will not be back.

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Celtics-Magic Game Blog: Second Quarter

03.08.09 at 12:39 pm ET
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At the start of the second quarter … Magic 22, Celtics 15

- The Magic have scored 16 of their first 22 points in the paint. They’ve done more damage in the lane than the Celtics have done on the floor, and Howard has only played six minutes.

- This could be a big game for Gabe Pruitt. With only Marbury ahead of him at the PG, Pruitt has his first shot in a while to prove himself.  He has not played since February 25 against the Los Angeles Clippers. That night he was arrested for suspicion of DUI and served a team-imposed two-game suspension.

- Both teams are going heavy on the bigs. The Celtics have Kendrick Perkins and Mikki Moore going up against Dwight Howard and Marcin Gortat.

- The Celtics have scored just two points in four minutes. And the faint boos have already begun.

- There have been 18 fouls called in the first 18 minutes of the game.

- Howard’s on the bench with three personal fouls. Now is the time for the Celtics to do some damage at the basket. The Cs also have an advantage with J.J. Redick guarding Ray Allen. Redick is not known for his defense.

- The Magic’s deal for Rafer Alston did not get much buzz at the trade deadline but this acquisition is a difference maker in this game. Alston brings quickness to the Magic that the Celtics are having trouble stopping without Rajon Rondo.

- Pierce’s dunk past Pietrus and Battie has the crowd on their feet. The harsh reality is, the Celtics are still down by nearly 20.

- At the half … Magic 51, Celtics 33

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Celtics-Magic Game Blog: First Quarter

03.08.09 at 12:07 pm ET
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We are live from the Garden for this afternoon’s game between the Celtics and Magic. The big news today is that Rajon Rondo is out and will be replaced in the starting lineup by Stephon Marbury. While it’s an obvious opportunity for Marbury, it might be a chance for Gabe Pruitt to get some run and get himself back on the map.

There’s a whole lot of subplots happening today and we’ll be here for all of them.

FIRST QUARTER WRAP: Bad quarter for the Celtics. It’s no secret that NBA players dislike afternoon games, especially after losing an hour of sleep. But 15 points and nine turnovers might qualify as the worst quarter they’ve played all year. Fortunately for them they are only down seven, 22-15, but they are going to need an energy injection from the bench.

First Quarter Observations

– I wonder if you had told Doc Rivers back in November that for a March game with the Magic that would go a long way toward deciding playoff seeding that he would be starting Big Baby Davis and Marbury; what he would say? On the one hand it’s a good chance for Marbury to get some action with the first unit, on the other hand the first unit isn’t exactly the first unit.

– Dwight Howard’s been working on that hook shot. Like all players he’s going to have make the adjustment for when he can no longer fly over everyone and just overpower people on his way to the basket. It is clearly still a work in progress.

– Speaking of Howard, Kendrick Perkins has done a fine job defending him this year, but the matchup to watch today is Big Baby on Rashard Lewis. The C’s usually put Kevin Garnett on Lewis and he’s one of the few bigs who can with Lewis on the perimeter.

– Too much dribbling, not enough ball movement for the Celtics.

– That was a quick glimpse of what Marbury brings to the table. There was no play. The options had broken down, but Marbury was able to get to the basket and not only score, he also got contact from Howard which resulted in his second foul. It’s impossible to judge Marbury on the floor until he gets his legs under him and he learns some semblance of the offense, but that’s what they were looking for when they brought him here.

– The Celtics have seven turnovers in seven and a half minutes. It doesn’t take Hubie Brown to tell you that’s way too many.

– Two points, no assists and two turnovers for Marbury in his first nine minutes. Again, it’s unfair to judge him yet, but not unfair to point out that he has a long way to go.

– Ray Allen has been the Celtics best player on offense and it’s not even close. He’s the only one getting to the basket and going aggressively once he turns the corner. The driving lanes are there to be had, especially with Howard out of the game.

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