This is what it takes to win on the road against good teams in the NBA. The Celtics outplayed the Magic for three and a half quarters, but a combination of hot shooting and a one-sided free throw discrepency allowed Orlando to get back into the game.
Down the stretch the Celtics seemed to make all the right plays. Rajon Rondo stole a possession by diving on the floor and outhustling Vince Carter. Rondo then scored on a tough drive to the hoop to give the Celtics a three-point lead with less than a minute to play. They did everything right, and then they lost it in the final 34 seconds.
The Celtics lost 96-94 after Rashard Lewis drove around Kevin Garnett on a busted play, while Rasheed Wallace’s weakside help was two steps too late. They lost after J.J. Redick made an improbable 3-pointer to tie the game seconds earlier. They lost after the Magic took 40 free throws to the Celtics 18, and they lost after two Eddie House 3-pointers were changed to 2’s.
After all that the Celtics still had a chance to come away with the victory, but Wallace’s 3-pointer at the buzzer sailed wide of the basket. It was a solid, even inspired performance for about 40 of the game’s 48 minutes, but it still wasn’t enough to get the win.
Player of the Game: Rashard Lewis made big shot after big shot for the Magic, but none was bigger than his drive to the hoop in the final seconds. The Celtics actually played good defense on the play as Paul Pierce denied Carter a chance to get the ball, which found its way into Lewis’ hands instead. He drove right around Garnett and laid in the winning points.
Turning Point: Stan Van Gundy made the biggest coaching move of the night, literally, when he brought Marcin Gortat into the game with Dwight Howard and played Lewis at the 3-spot. The Magic were down by double digits when Van Gundy went to the super-sized lineup, but took the lead late in the fourth quarter.
* Kendrick Perkins spent the majority of the first half in foul trouble, but so did Dwight Howard. Call it a draw.
* Orlando had just one assist in the first half and shot 33 percent.
* The Magic cut the Celtics lead to just six points midway through the first half. Then Brian Scalabrine knocked down a corner 3-pointer. On the next possession, Ray Allen hit from long distance on transition and the lead was back up to 12. This pattern repeated itself in the third quarter, but the Celtics once again made shots at the right time. Eddie House buried a 3-pointer with just over a second remaining to put the Celtics up 12 going into the fourth quarter.
* Wallace picked up a technical foul for yelling, “And one,” after a made basket. He also unleashed the loudest “BALL DON’T LIE,” of the season. Unofficially.
* Allen had a bounceback shooting night, going 8-for-12 and 4-for-8 from 3-point range. But he missed a shot that could have put the Celtics ahead late in the game.