It took 34 seconds to figure out what to make of Game 3. And it was No. 34 who made that delineation clear.
On the Celtics’ first offensive possession, Paul Pierce planted his pivot foot, pirouetted, and put down a 17-foot jumper over Matt Barnes to give the Celtics a 2-0 lead. The game, of course, was not over at that point, but the rules had been set. Pierce could get any shot he wanted. And, for the third straight game, the Magic would struggle to get any easy shots of their own.
Pierce had 15 points and 9 rebounds as the Celtics collaborated for a 94-71 win over the Orlando Magic in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals tonight. The Celtics can close out the series with a win Monday night in Game 4 (8:30 p.m., ESPN).
Game 3 was over from the start. The Magic started the game 3 of 14 with six turnovers. The Celtics led 27-12 after the first quarter and held Orlando to 24-percent shooting in the period. The Celtics out-rebounded the Magic 14-8 in the first and forced six Orlando turnovers.
“The most disappointing to me was that I didn't have our team better ready to play," said Magic coach Stan Van Gundy. "That was what was disappointing to me, was my job... I'm the coach of this team. It starts with me. I'm not happy with where I had our team tonight, anything about what I did, my plan, any adjustments, anything."
While the coach took the blame, his players weren't much help. Much-maligned Magic All-Star center Dwight Howard started the game 0-for-3 from the floor and 0-for-2 from the line. He would finish the first half with just five points, a stat that would have been atrocious on its own had he not scored just two more points in the second half. Howard's final line: 7 points, 7 rebounds, 3 of 10 from the floor, 1 of 4 from the line.
"We didn't make any changes," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers on his team's defense of Howard. "Our guys did a better job of digging."
While defense was a major key for the Celtics, the incomparable Rajon Rondo (11 points, 12 assists) was once again the engine that drove Boston on offense. Consecutive plays from Rondo in the second quarter showcased talent and hustle respectively. At the 9:01 mark in the quarter Rondo faked as if he was clearing the ball to the top of the key, then turned his shoulder and left Jason Williams in the dust on the way to a quick two. Rondo’s layup at the 8:34 mark in the second quarter was pure hustle, the Celtics point guard prying the ball from J.J. Redick before diving to the floor to take the ball away from Williams and lay it up to give the Celtics a 36-17 lead.
"When you have that speed and then you have that heart, you become a pretty good player," Rivers said of Rondo. "If that doesn't give your whole team energy nothing will. I don't know how he got it. It was a great play."
In addition to Rondo’s heroics, the second quarter also saw the Magic hang in there despite tremendous play by the Celtics. Orlando made 8 of 14 shots in the second period to keep what could have been a much bigger lead to a 17-point halftime deficit. Vince Carter and Jameer Nelson combined for 14 points in the second, but the Celtics received a big boost from Glen Davis, who had 10 points in the quarter to keep the Celtics comfortably ahead.
It would spiral out of control rather quickly for Orlando in the third. The Magic would only get as close as 15 points before jumpers by Ray Allen and Pierce extended the lead back out to 20 points. The Magic made just 1 of 10 three-pointers in the third quarter as the Celtics closed the period on a 24-11 run, rendering the fourth quarter a creativity contest for the Garden fans, who peppered Howard with “Overrated” chants and then brashly looked ahead to a potential NBA Finals matchup with a chant of “Beat LA”.
After a game like this, maybe that chant wasn’t so bold. The Magic must improve their play dramatically or face the very real possibility that they have only 48 minutes of basketball remaining in their season.
"They're going to come back in the next game and they're going to give us their best shot," said Rivers. "Quite honestly, we're not good enough to let up. I can tell you that. And they're good enough to get it going. And so we have to be very conscious of that."
Final, Celtics 94-71:
It's all over. The Celtics win Game 3.
Fourth quarter, 5:34, Celtics 87-56:
Super early playoff Gino in effect at the Garden.
Fourth quarter, 8:07, Celtics 85-53:
Rasheed Wallace is into double-figures with that last three-pointer. Fans chanting "Beat LA" at the Garden.
End third quarter, Celtics 75-47:
Ray Allen adds a three for good measure. Hard to imagine the Magic coming back with any energy Monday night after a whooping like this.
Third quarter, 1:01, Celtics 72-47:
This one is getting out of hand. Dwight Howard is still stuck on five points.
Third quarter, 4:54, Celtics 66-43:
A 10-5 run by the Celtics puts them comfortably ahead once again. The Celtics seem perfectly comfortable taking hits from the Magic and answering back with hits of their own. Incredibly the Celtics have turned the ball over just four times so far.
A fun moment as Patriots wideout Wes Welker, shown on the Jumbotron, stood up and ran in place for the Garden fans. Welker was obviously trying to assure Patriots fans that his knee is just fine. Patriots teammate Vince Wilfork, also at the Garden, could only laugh as he watched Welker on the big screen.
Third quarter, 7:50, Celtics 56-38:
Matt Barnes shoves Kevin Garnett into Stan Van Gundy. Foul on Barnes. Some words exchanged between the players. If the Magic are going to put up a fight, the time is right now.
Third quarter, 11:05, Celtics 51-34:
Both Rashard Lewis and Kendrick Perkins pick up their fourth personal fouls.
Halftime, Celtics 51-34
If you would have asked Doc Rivers whether he would have taken a 17-point halftime lead tonight -- he would have taken it. And the Celtics did not melt in the second period when Orlando started to hit shots. The Celtics shot 51 percent in the half while Orlando hit 8 of 14 shots in the second quarter to avoid the blowout. Jameer Nelson has 10 for Orlando and the rest of the Magic is 9 for 25 from the field (36 percent). Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen and Glen Davis each have 10 for the Celtics.
Second quarter, 2:51, Celtics 49-29
Doc Rivers goes back to basics after Celtics lose offensive focus as Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett score buckets to increase lead to 20. Rashard Lewis (2 points, 1-for-4 shooting) has just picked up his third foul and should be on the bench the rest of the half. Jameer Nelson has 10 for Orlando and Dwight Howard has 5.
Second quarter, 4:21, Celtics 45-29
Celtics actually led by 24 but a Jameer Nelson-led 10-2 run has Orlando within the vicinity and the Celtics are trying to finish the quarter strong and not allow Orlando to get within single digits. Nelson has 10 while the rest of the Magic are 8 for 22 from the field.
Second quarter, 8:32, Celtics 36-17
Celtics are playing as well as they did in Orlando and even better through the first 16 minutes. A 9-4 run to begin the second quarter has Orlando reeling and the sad part for the Magic is they are getting beat on hustle plays. Rajon Rondo just beat Jason Williams to a loose ball and converted it into a layup.
End of first quarter, Celtics 27-12
Boston ends quarter on a 20-6 run and hold the Magic to 23.5 percent shooting as Orlando looks overwhelmed already. The Celtics shot 55 percent in the quarter and received balanced scoring, including 8 points from Paul Pierce. Dwight Howard has 1 points on 0-for-4 shooting and 1-for-4 from the free throw line.
First quarter, 3:18, Celtics 16-6
Celtics on a 9-0 run after allowing a 6-0 Orlando run. Celtics are moving the ball well and giving the ball to Kendrick Perkins on streaks to the basket because Dwight Howard is so consumed with playing the dribble drives by Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo. Ray Allen has seven points and the Celtics are 7 for 15 from the field. Orlando looks unorganized and lethargic at this point.
First quarter, 5:43, Celtics 9-6
The Celtics started off 7-0 and the Magic looked helpless but a stretch of six straight empty possessions allowed the Magic to crawl back into the game. The Celtics are just 4 for 11 from the field, including 1 for 4 by Paul Pierce. The Magic are 3 for 8 and have four turnovers.