ORLANDO, Fla. -- Paul Pierce knows what it's like to hit upon that unstoppable scoring rhythm. Despite recent struggles, Pierce doesn't need any reminders. But he got one anyway last night at the TD Waterhouse Centre. Shadowing Tracy McGrady on defense in the fourth quarter and overtime, Pierce watched his counterpart hit big shots when it mattered most.
It was McGrady who led his team on a fourth-quarter comeback that forced overtime. It was McGrady who helped set the tone in overtime with a 3-pointer. It was a 42-point performance by McGrady, coupled with a career-high 32-point effort from Drew Gooden, that gave the Orlando Magic their 10th win of the season, a 124-118 victory over the Celtics.
"With guys like McGrady, once he gets going, it doesn't matter what type of defense you play on him," said Pierce. "I know what type of feeling he has out there. It doesn't matter if you have a hand up on his shot or whatever. Once they get it going, you've just got to hope they miss. He had that kind of rhythm."
If you look at the Celtics' shooting percentages (54 from the floor, 44 from 3-point range) and assist total (31), it would be easy to assume they had also found a special rhythm on offense. But it was not special enough, considering they committed 22 turnovers that led to 35 Orlando points, rushed outside shots during overtime, and got a second straight substandard scoring performance from Pierce (20 points on 7-for-26 shooting).
After Pierce missed a 3-pointer with 10.9 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, it was Walter McCarty who sent the game to overtime. McCarty nailed his shot from beyond the arc with 2.3 seconds left to even the score at 111. While the Celtics celebrated the tying basket, they knew it should never have come to that. Boston led by as many as 7 points in the fourth quarter, and went up, 103-97, when Mike James hit an 18-footer with four minutes remaining in regulation.
But then Orlando started a 6-0 run that would tie the score at 103 with 2:35 remaining in regulation. Naturally, McGrady capped the run in dramatic fashion. He dunked an alley-oop pass from Tyronn Lue, drew a foul from Ricky Davis, and completed the 3-point play. A 3-pointer from Gooden with 47.5 seconds to go gave Orlando its first lead of the fourth, 109-106. The Celtics closed within 1 before an 18-footer from McGrady made McCarty's tying 3-pointer necessary.
Pierce attempted and missed the first shot of overtime, a 21-footer. He tried to do it all in the extra period and finished 1 for 5. McCarty looked to reprise his game-saving role, but he went 0 for 3 and twice came up empty from 3-point range. Missing the aggressiveness that served them well building a lead in the fourth, the Celtics shot just 3 of 10 in overtime. All their misses came from 16 feet and beyond.
"They were very aggressive on defense," said Celtics rookie Marcus Banks, who set a career high with 14 points and tied a career best with six assists. "We sat back and took 3-pointers where they were trying to get to the basket. If they didn't have it, they were kicking out. I think everybody rushed a little bit too early, instead of taking their time like they do any other time."
Meanwhile, McGrady opened overtime with a 3-pointer. A 19-footer from Gooden gave Orlando the lead for good, 116-115, with 3:27 left. McGrady then found Keith Bogans and Juwan Howard for baskets, providing the Magic with a quick overtime start that demoralized and ultimately doomed the Celtics. Pierce, in large part, blamed himself for the Celtics' failings.
"It wasn't one of my better nights," he said. "I've been playing poorly these last two games and I'll take the bad with the good. I know if I play well, we have a better chance of winning. But the last couple games, I haven't stepped up like I know I should. But I'll bounce back. That's something I'm not even worried about.
"When you're a target in this league and you play 82 games, to say you're going to come out and dominate all 82 games is ludicrous. I'm going to have my down period. These last two games I haven't been playing my best. But the thing about me is I don't get discouraged. This game is already forgotten about. I'm moving on right now. No excuses. I didn't shoot the ball well. We're in dogfights when I struggle."