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Five reasons why the Celtics won

05.16.10 at 6:23 pm ET

At first glance at the Celtics’ 92-88, Game 1 win over the Magic in the Eastern Conference finals, here are five reasons why the C’s were able to jump out to a 1-0 series lead:

They found their Garnett-Jamison matchup: While the Celtics rode Cleveland’s Antawn Jamison’s inability to guard Kevin Garnett in the last series, the C’s found a similar advantage in the matchup between Vince Carter and Paul Pierce. After having to deal with the physical defense of LeBron James in the series against the Cavs, Pierce clearly knew he was going to try to take advantage of Carter guarding him this time around, starting with a 3-pointer for the Celts’ first points of the game. Carter first tried to play off of Pierce, and then when the veteran guard got up on the C’s star it resulted in drives to the basket Carter couldn’t defend. Ray Allen also took advantage of his pairing with Matt Barnes/Mickael Pietrus, consistently staying aggressive in going to the hoop, especially in the first half.

They made Howard look human: Dwight Howard missed a total of five shots in the entire four-game series with the Hawks, yet missed four in the first half Sunday. Sure, it was an off game for the best center in the NBA, but the most important aspect of the performance was the ability of Kendrick Perkins and Rasheed Wallace to man-up on Howard without any help. When Howard did get one-on-one chances on the block he showed little to no ability to make any kind of post move that would make the C’s change their strategy. Orlando actually had much more luck with backup center Marcin Gortat in the game, a matchup that didn’t seem to favor Perkins. (Gortat finished as a plus-9, while Howard finished as a minus-8.)

The Celts were able to focus on Orlando’s 3-point game: The Magic went 0-for-9 from 3-point land in the first half, and it was no accident. With the Celts able to do what no other Magic playoff opponent has managed — defend Howard one-on-one — the Celtics could concentrate on extending their defense to the 3-point line. Orlando was able to free up some 3-point shooters in the second half, but because of it went away from staying aggressive going to the basket.

Rondo played point guard while Nelson played scorer: While it wasn’t Rajon Rondo’s best game, he certainly held his own against one of the key components of the Orlando offense, Jameer Nelson. Perhaps Rondo’s most important contribution was his ability to control the tempo at key times, pushing the ball back at the Magic each time it appeared as though a run by the hosts was on the horizon. Nelson, meanwhile, offered some value in the Magic’s half-court sets, but he wasn’t nearly the pace-setter his counterpart proved to be. Rondo was perhaps a bit too aggressive in the final few minutes — perhaps better served eating up some clock instead of driving — but it didn’t diminish his overall value.

The bench guys did exactly what was needed: Other than a seven-second appearance by Michael Finley, the Celtics subs consisted of Tony Allen, Glen Davis and Rasheed Wallace. That was it. But for good reason. Each of the trio offered exactly what the Celts had hoped. Allen supplied athleticism on the wing, Davis gave the Celts some much-needed interior offense while guarding Howard on occasion, and Wallace simply injected his own brand of chaos. It was Wallace’s presence that proved perhaps most important, not only chipping in with 13 points (5-for-6 from the floor), but frustrating Howard with his own unique brand of defense.

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