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On basketball

They need to guard against this effort

By Marc J. Spears
Globe Staff / May 9, 2009
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The Celtics can't control who is hurt, or guess who is going to be cold on any given night. But the one staple throughout last season's championship run was their defense.

The Celtics, however, must have left that back in Boston, as they were hammered, 117-96, by the Magic in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series last night at Amway Arena.

"Our defense was awful," said coach Doc Rivers. "They made every shot. I thought they were the aggressor for the entire night and we were the retaliators the entire night. We were running into picks. Didn't communicate well.

"A team that led the NBA in field goal percentage and is supposed to be a great defensive team, we sure didn't act that way tonight. Give them credit. They did some great things."

The Magic shot a franchise playoff-record 59.1 percent from the field. The Celtics allowed a season playoff high for points, Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu combining for 52. Orlando also attempted 36 free throws and missed only six.

"Terrible tonight. We just didn't play well at all defensively," said Rajon Rondo.

Added Paul Pierce, "We are a defensive team first." But such was not the case on this night.

Orlando came in averaging 95.8 points in eight playoff games, only once breaking 100. The Magic didn't exactly light it up in the first two games in Boston, either. Orlando scored 95 points in a Game 1 win on 43.2 percent shooting, aided by nine 3-pointers. The Magic scored 94 points in Game 2 on 44.3 percent shooting with seven 3-pointers and 24 free throws.

Orlando's loss of suspended point guard Rafer Alston for Game 3 seemed as if it would be major, considering he averaged 7.5 points and 6.2 assists in the first two games. Anthony Johnson, however, played solidly in place of Alston, with 13 points in 28 minutes.

"I said it this morning that I didn't think there was that big of a difference really [between Johnson and Alston]," Rivers said. "I thought Anthony Johnson is just as capable and I think he actually makes more shots at times. So we didn't see that as an advantage, clearly."

Johnson, who has 81 games of postseason experience, showed he was ready last night, throwing down a two-handed baseline dunk to give Orlando a 4-0 lead. Johnson guided the Magic to a 22-18 lead by the end of the first quarter by making all three of his shot attempts, dishing out two assists, and grabbing two rebounds.

The Magic turned it on in the second quarter, scoring 31 points to take a 12-point halftime lead (53-41). Center Dwight Howard only had 6 of his 17 points at that time.

"We played very good on the offensive end," said Magic coach Stan Van Gundy. "We got good performances out of virtually everyone and obviously had a great shooting night."

Said Lewis, "It seemed like we were coming up big and hitting shots."

The Celtics gave up 25 points in the third quarter and a whopping 39 in the fourth. Boston's defense was a far cry from the regular season, when it allowed 93.4 points per game.

"We didn't play D today," said forward Glen Davis. "We just have to go to the drawing board and see what we've got to do."

Said Kendrick Perkins, "They got to wherever they wanted to go. They were comfortable. They got in every post position they wanted to. They made shots. They had wide-open looks. I thought we played hard, but we didn't play smart. So, it hurts."

Ray Allen scored just 8 points on 3-of-13 shooting. The Celtics had just 10 fast-break points, missed 13 of 18 3-pointers, and shot only 43 percent from the field. Pierce had just 10 points through three quarters, before getting hot with 17 in the fourth. Rondo, who has been a triple-double waiting to happen, scored 15 points, but was limited to six assists and five rebounds.

But of all the things that went wrong for the Celtics, nothing stood out more or was talked about with more disdain than their poor defense. And without the Celtics' foundation for their success, everything else turned for the worse.

"Orlando kept us on our heels all night," Pierce said. "If we aren't decisive defensively, then it's a long night. We didn't get out to the shooters. We let them cut down the middle. When you give them their inside game and their outside game, you don't have a chance.

"They took the fight to us and we waited until we get 16, 18 points behind [to fight back]. It can't be that way, especially on the road. We've got to come out and set the tone early."

Marc J. Spears can be reached at mspears@globe.com

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