From a thriller to a snoozer
ORLANDO, Fla. - Another stink bomb by the Celtics. Another crummy game. Another night when you could switch to the Bruins or Red Sox without worrying that you might miss something.
If you are a Celtics fan, all the drama, all the good basketball was played in the first round against the Bulls. One of the greatest NBA playoff series of all time has given way to a second-round bowser.
The Magic crushed the Celtics last night, 117-96. It was another wire-to-wire job. The home team scored the first two baskets and never trailed. Guess we were spoiled by Celtics-Bulls VII.
"Our defense was awful," said Doc Rivers. "I thought they were the aggressor for the entire night. A team that is supposed to be a great defensive team, we sure didn't act that way tonight. I was disappointed at how we competed."
This series is close (2-1, Magic), but none of the games has been contested down the stretch. Three straight times we have seen a team take a lead of at least 20 points by the middle of the third quarter. The epic seven-gamer with the Bulls featured 108 lead changes and seven overtimes. This dog has had four lead changes in three games - all in the early moments of a game in which the Celtics trailed by 28 in the third.
So this time we have no more Ben Gordon splashing 30-footers to force overtime. We have no Paul Pierce hitting stake-driving stepbacks while wearing John Salmons. No big shots followed by bigger shots. All we have are blowouts.
We also have an increasingly dire situation for your Celtics. They yielded home-court advantage when they were wiped out at the Garden in Game 1, and now they're going to have to win a game at Amway Arena if they are to make it to Cleveland.
The math is simple: The Celtics cannot win this series without taking a game here in Hooterville by Lake Eola.
Part of the NBA since 1989-90, this franchise was on the front lines of the war on sensibility that came to be known as "game presentation." These are the folks who put the "ya" in yahoo. We first took note when the Celtics played a playoff series here in 1995, when Chris Ford's Green Team lost a best-of-five in four games. That was a Magic team (Shaquille O'Neal, Penny Hardaway) that went to the Finals, where they were swept by the Houston Rockets.
It's been the same nifty building for 20 years. Originally known as the Orlando Arena (the "O-Rena") it's now Amway Arena, which is about as lame as you can get. Ever been to a dinner party and have the hosts try to sell you their cleaning products after dessert? It's the all-time buzz kill.
The biggest buzz in the building last night came when rapper Lil Wayne made it to his seat on the baseline near the Celtic bench.
Probably few of you know that Lil Wayne is the man who ruined the recent Patriots season. It was at a Lil Wayne concert where Kevin Faulk was busted for pot and subsequently suspended for the first game of the season. Lil Wayne is the reason Faulk was not there to block Bernard Pollard when the Chiefs defensive back took out Tom Brady's knee in the first quarter.
Much to the delight of Lil Wayne and friends, the Celtics did not defend in the first two quarters, and trailed by 12 at halftime. The Magic blew past the Celtics with nonstop dribble penetration. Orlando's long-distance game wasn't needed with Anthony Johnson and Courtney Lee driving to the basket.
"They were scoring every time and we were a half-court basketball team," said Rivers. "That's not us."
"This is probably one of our poorer defensive games of the year," said Pierce. "When we're indecisive defensively, it's a long night. When you give them their inside game and their outside game, you don't have a chance. Tonight, we let them take the fight to us."
The first 30 seconds of the second half framed the game nicely. Pierce came down and missed a wide-open jumper, then Dwight Howard flushed in transition. It was 74-54 with five minutes to go in the third.
The Celtics cut it to 7 in the fourth, but could not make shots. Pierce, Ray Allen, and Rajon Rondo combined to make only 16 of 45 shots.
On the other side, Hedo Turkoglu was hitting 8 of 12 and Howard made 7 of 8 with 14 rebounds and five blocks.
With 4:10 left, the Celtics trailed by 18. Mikki Moore time. Rivers cleared his bench.
"I really didn't see a 17- or 18-point run coming in those last 3 1/2 minutes," said Rivers. "We need our legs. Our legs are really important to us . . . We've got to come back on Sunday. We are going to come back. Everybody was off tonight. Go home. Get something to drink and eat and get your rest and we'll be ready to play Sunday.
"I thought this would be a phenomenal game. I thought both teams would play good basketball and we would finally get a good game. It just didn't happen tonight."
It hasn't happened yet. Have your clicker in hand when you watch these guys tomorrow.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.