Celtics pushed to limit by Magic
ORLANDO, Fla. - This time, it was the Celtics' turn to shut themselves down.
After rallying for two successive victories, Boston squandered a 10-point lead in falling, 83-75, to the Magic in Game 6 of their second-round playoff series last night. The deciding game is Sunday night at 8 at the Garden.
But this was not a characteristic Celtics collapse. They made defensive stands, limiting the Magic to 36.6 percent field goal shooting. But they lost their way offensively, scoring only 29 points in the second half and going scoreless over the final 3:47.
"We didn't run out of gas, I guess we just choked," guard Rajon Rondo said. "We turned the ball over and things did not go our way. We were not the more aggressive team. They fought back and stuck with it."
The Celtics led by 10 early in the second half. But the Magic went on a 21-9 run to take a 66-64 lead on Rashard Lewis's drive with 8:38 remaining. Paul Pierce rallied the Celt ics with 6 straight points over a 1:08 span for a 73-72 edge with 4:51 remaining.
But the Celtics' offense went stagnant and the Magic concluded the game with an 11-2 run over the final 4:02.
"The offense definitely struggled," Pierce said. "We still played good enough defense to win the game. I thought we turned the ball over way too much. We weren't aggressive, we needed to take the ball to the basket more. But, I thought defensively we played the way that we love to play."
The focal point of the game was Orlando center Dwight Howard (23 points, 22 rebounds), the Magic making a strong effort to involve him in their offense while the Celtics attacked him in an attempt to get him in foul trouble.
Howard criticized the tactics of coach Stan Van Gundy after the Celtics took a 92-88 victory in Game 5, expressing a desire to be the center of attention offensively. And Howard's low-post presence put pressure on the Celtics' inside defending, limiting the contributions of center Kendrick Perkins (15 points, 10 rebounds), who committed his fifth foul with 6:52 remaining, and Glen Davis, who played less than 25 minutes because of foul trouble.
The Celtics led by 9 points in the first half and stretched the advantage to 55-45 on a Davis fadeaway 4:58 into the second half. But the Celtics converted only once from the field in the final 6:26 of the third quarter.
"At one point in time I think they were ready to lay down," Perkins said. "But we just kept giving them hope. They got the fans back into it and got some energy, and that just can't happen on the road."
Orlando did not take the lead until 8:38 remained in the game.
Free throws by Mickael Pietrus and Courtney Lee tied the score, then Lewis's drive gave Orlando a 66-64 edge. Rondo (19 points, 16 rebounds) hit a 3-pointer with 0:01 on the shot clock 27 seconds later, then Lewis regained the lead for the Magic with two free throws. Lee scored in transition, then the Celtics lost possession as Perkins was charged with his fifth foul, and Lewis's drive extended the Magic edge to 72-67 with 6:36 left.
After Pierce rallied the Celtics to a 1-point advantage, the Magic regained momentum, despite Howard missing two foul shots out of a timeout. Rafer Alston's 3-pointer provided a 75-73 lead with 4:02 to go. Rondo banked a shot over Howard, then Howard made it 76-75 with a free throw with 2:47 to play. Brian Scalabrine blocked a Lewis shot and Pierce drew Howard's fifth foul, but missed two free throws with 2:04 to go.
Alston's drive then gave Orlando a 78-75 edge with 1:52 left. Alston blocked a Rondo jumper out of a Celtics timeout, and Hedo Turkoglu made it 81-75 with a 3-pointer with 1:23 left. Lewis made two more foul shots, following an offensive rebound, with 49 seconds to play.
"I hope that's what it was," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said of the fatigue factor. "You have to go out and execute and trust each other and move the ball - I don't think we had a whole bunch of that. I thought they played hard, harder than us, in a lot of stretches. They got all the loose balls and long rebounds. I guess that explains the 31-13 [free throw attempts] advantage. That's the only thing I can come up with, that they must have drove more than us."
Said Pierce: "Being tired right now is a state of mind. This is where we want to be. This is a tremendous opportunity, home for Game 7 - that's the reason we play the regular season, so we have this opportunity. We know we missed a great opportunity, and Game 7 is not something we rely on, being at home. But we'll be ready."