|Fast Break: Celtics-Magic||12.25.09 at 5:23 pm ET|
If Magic coach Stan Van Gundy has his way, the NBA would make like the rest of the world and take Christmas Day off. He has a point, but for the last two decades Dec. 25 has become the NBA’s early-season showcase event and there’s no chance of that changing anytime soon.The way his team played against the Celtics, he may get his wish.
Without Paul Pierce, the Celtics played a different brand of basketball than has been their norm this season. There was very little flash and not much in the way of offensive efficiency. Instead the Celtics played gritty, grind-it-out halfcourt hoops with a heavy emphasis on defense. It was playoff-style basketball, if not playoff-style execution. The Magic, meanwhile, played like they would have rather been knocking back some eggnog with the family.
It wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t anything that the NBA would want to put in its highlight packages, but for the Celtics this 86-77 win was their biggest of the season. The Magic have owned this matchup recently, but with Kevin Garnett back to check Rashard Lewis and Rajon Rondo playing far more aggressively than he has against Orlando, the Celtics were able to escape with the victory.
Player of the Game: Rajon Rondo. Every time you think you have Rondo figured out, he does something to make you think otherwise. He has been one the game’s best distributors as a point guard, but he has struggled against Orlando. The Magic didn’t even pretend to guard Rondo on the perimeter. They ducked under screens and gave him a 10-foot cushion at the top of the key.
So, Rondo adjusted. Instead of looking to set up his teammates he attacked the basket throughout the first half. The result was a 13-point, zero-assist half. Rondo then completely reversed course and racked up eight assists in the second half. He dictated the outcome instead of allowing the Magic to take him out of the game.
Turning Point: With Garnett out of the game the Magic were able to attack the offensive glass in the fourth quarter. In one sequence they had four shots at the basket from deep inside the paint. Finally, Rasheed Wallace was able to tap the ball out to Rondo, who found Tony Allen on the break for a vicious dunk. It was a huge four-point swing.
* Glen Davis was limited to a few minutes in the first half, mainly because of foul trouble. He’s not in game shape yet, but he was able to soak up a few minutes and allowed Doc Rivers to rest Kevin Garnett and keep him on his regular rotation.
* You take the good with the bad when it comes to Tony Allen, and he offered a little bit of both starting for Paul Pierce. He went to the basket hard and did what he could on Vince Carter. He also turned into a bit of a ball stopper at times on offense. The good far outweighed the bad, however, and Allen continued his strong play of late with 16 points.
* Kendrick Perkins is one of the few individuals on the planet who can play Dwight Howard straight up. It’s past time that NBA officials recognized that and let him play. Instead, Perkins spent most of the afternoon on the bench in foul trouble. As ragged as the play was at times, the officials helped create the environment.
* The Celtics desperately missed Pierce’s ability to create good shots for himself down the stretch. Without Pierce they lack a closer.
* Garnett took a hard fall late in the game, but it appeared that it didn’t have anything to do with his knee.