A difficult Game 4 means the series won't come easy.
The Celtics clawed their way to every one of their 92 points Monday night, forcing overtime before running out of steam against a rejuvenated Orlando Magic team. With a 96-92 win at TD Garden, the Magic force a Game 5 at Amway Arena Wednesday night.
"I don't think we played desperate, but I do think we played hard and we fought," said Magic coach Stan Van Gundy. "It's the first time I think in the series we've actually made it tough on them."
Every aspect of Game 4 was tougher for the Celtics. In the first quarter they struggled to defend the Magic as Orlando shot 62 percent from the field. The Magic took eight three-pointers -- and while they made only three of them -- the looks were more open than any they'd seen in the first three games of this series. On offense, Paul Pierce (4 of 5, 12 points) was the only Celtic who seemed in sync as the Celtics found themselves down 31-26 after one.
The second quarter wasn't much prettier for the Celtics offensively. Rajon Rondo (2 fouls) sat out the first three minutes of the second, and when Tony Allen picked up his second foul, Rivers went deep into his bench and pulled out Nate Robinson for the first of two unexpected stints. By halftime the teams had combined for zero fast break points but an absurd 30 fouls. The Celtics picked up their defense, however, holding Orlando to 31-percent shooting in the second as Boston trailed by just four at halftime.
The Magic built as much as an eight-point lead to start the second half, but a technical foul on Kevin Garnett with 9:22 remaining in the third quarter fired up Garnett, his teammates, and the sellout crowd at TD Garden. Garnett appeared to be poked in the eye by Dwight Howard on the play, and his reaction -- as well as his technical -- both appeared deserved. The sequence fired up the Celtics, who for the first time appeared to be matching Orlando's energy. The Celtics took their first lead of the half on a pair of Ray Allen free throws with 47 seconds left in the third and maintained that 68-67 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
Boston's defense would hold for the rest of the game, but for the first time all series the Magic, too, proved they could dig down and get stops. The Celtics scored just two points in the first four minutes of the fourth. It didn't get better. They'd score 18 points in the fourth quarter, turning the ball over six times in the process. Orlando would lead by as many as seven points, but a three-pointer by Ray Allen with 1:41 left in the fourth cut the lead to 85-83.
After Jameer Nelson made 1 of 2 free throws, Pierce took the ball the other way for a lay-up and foul that tied the game at 86. Nelson would turn the ball over on Orlando's next possession, giving the Celtics a chance to take the lead, but Pierce missed a turnaround jumper, giving the Magic the ball with 24.3 seconds left.
"It was amazing how bad we were execution-wise and still had a chance to win that game," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "That was amazing to me."
Another Nelson miss gave the Celtics the last chance to win the game outright in regulation, but Pierce (32 points, 11 rebounds) lost the ball as time expired.
"We did a good job," said Van Gundy on his team's defense of the final play of regulation. "It was going to be anybody but Paul at that point. We were going to come at him and try to make somebody else shoot the ball. He had been tremendous all night."
It took more than two minutes for someone to score in overtime, but Nelson did it twice in a row, banking in one three-pointer and swishing a second to put the Magic up six with 1:59 left.
Allen broke the overtime scoring drought for the Celtics on their next possession, hitting a three-pointer to put the Celtics within three. A Dwight Howard lay-up put the Magic up five, but Allen came back with another one of his five three-pointers to make it 94-92.
The pick-and-roll worked to perfection for Orlando on the next play, Howard gobbling up Nelson's miss and putting it back in to put Orlando up four. A bad pass by Garnett gave the ball back to the Magic. Howard would convert again on Orlando's next trip, a basket that would prove to be the last of the game as the Celtics failed to convert several opportunities.
"There were a couple of plays down the stretch offensively that we botched," said Allen. "Plain and simple ... We're kicking ourselves because we had great opportunities still."
Allen finished with 22 points. Howard led the Magic with 32 points and 16 rebounds.
"[Howard's] will was very, very strong tonight," said Van Gundy.
Final: Magic 96-92 A heave by Glen Davis clangs off the rim. This series is going back to Orlando. Game 5 is Wednesday night at 8:30 p.m.
9.6 seconds, overtime, Magic 96-92 A couple of chances for Pierce to keep the Celtics in it, but he short-arms both three-point attempts.
1:13 overtime, Magic 94-92 Howard gets a lay-up, but Allen hits another three. Wow.
1:46 overtime, Magic 92-89 Ray Allen brings the Celtics back once again. The C's need a stop.
1:56 overtime, Magic 92-86 It took more than two minutes for someone to score, but Jameer Nelson has done it twice, banking in one three-pointer and swishing a second to put the Magic up six.
End regulation, Tied at 86 Misses on both sides, and Paul Pierce fails to get a shot off on the final possession as the clock runs out. This one's going to overtime.
1:16 4th quarter, Tied at 86 Jameer Nelson makes 1 of 2 free throws and Pierce comes down the other way for a lay-up and a foul.
1:41 4th quarter, Magic 85-83 Just when the game seemed lost, Ray Allen knocks down a clutch three-pointer to give the Celtics a chance.
5:33 4th quarter, Tied at 74: What a defensive battle. Whoever wins this game isn't going to win it easily. After shooting 62 percent in the first quarter, the Magic are down to 44 percent as a team.
8:13 4th quarter, Magic 74-70: Celtics can't buy a bucket in the fourth quarter. J.J. Redick puts the Magic up four with an open three-pointer, his third of the game.
End 3d quarter, Celtics 68-67: A pair of Ray Allen free throws give the Celtics the lead. The Celtics have gotten over the hump. Can they get to the top of the mountain?
1:11 3d quarter, Magic 67-66: Rondo now has four fouls as well. The crowd is still waiting for the Celtics to tie it up or take the lead for the first time in the second half.
5:17 3d quarter, Magic 62-60: Another hard foul from Howard, his fourth.
8:02 3d quarter, Magic 56-55: Best technical ever for the Celtics. The foul got the Celtics fired up, and the crowd is into the game now as well. A Piece jumper, an Allen dunk, and a Garnett jumper have the Celtics right back in this.
9:22 3d quarter, Magic 56-49: Kevin Garnett picks up a technical foul. Garnett complained to the officials that he was poked in the eye by Dwight Howard. Replays appeared to confirm what Garnett was arguing, but there was no question about the technical, either.
Halftime, Magic 51-47: The Celtics have gotten practically nothing out of Rondo, Allen, Perkins, and the entire bench, and yet they trail by just four points. The defense has improved for Boston: Orlando is down to 49-percent shooting. Jameer Nelson (13 points, 4 assists) has taken charge of the Orlando offense. His dribble penetration tonight is something the Magic have lacked this series.
Paul Pierce has 19 points for the Celtics.
2:54 2d quarter, Magic 43-39: The Celtics are hanging in there, doggone it. Paul Pierce (17 points) is keeping them in it with solid one-on-one offense. For how well the Magic have played, they're only up four.
6:09 2d quarter, Magic 40-32: Rondo's back, but the Celtics have yet to find their groove. Boston has 6 turnovers, half of those from Rondo. The Celtics really do go as far as their little floor general.
9:07 2d quarter, Magic 34-28: The Celtics are playing a step slow. With Rondo and Tony Allen on the bench with two fouls, Nate Robinson is running the point for Boston. Seems like it would be worth bringing Rondo back in to try to get something going.
End 1st quarter, Magic 31-26: This is not how the Celtics wanted to start Game 4. Orlando shot a blistering 63 percent in the first quarter. The threes have to be particularly troublesome for the Celtics. The Magic have made only 3 of 8, but they've all been wide open. The Celtics need to improve their defense quickly.
Paul Pierce (4 of 5, 12 points) has been playing well for the C's.
2:41 1st quarter, Magic 23-19: The Celtics are starting to find their offense with Rondo on the bench. Beautiful cut by Paul Pierce, who took a feed from Kevin Garnett and converted at the rim. Can't believe I'm saying this, but the Celtics need to ride out this first quarter and stay close. Orlando has taken 17 shots to Boston's 9 so far, a product of 4 Celtics turnovers.
4:35 1st quarter, Magic 18-14: Rajon Rondo picks up his second foul. Tony Allen into the game.
4:42 1st quarter, Magic 18-14: The Magic are playing substantially better than they played in in Game 3. The Magic are shooting 57 percent from the field, and that percentage could be higher. Lots of easy looks for Orlando. Where's that defense-on-a-string we've become so accustomed to with the Celtics?
8:40 1st quarter, Magic 9-5: Everyone's a little antsy. Rajon Rondo has two turnovers already.
Pregame: Just spotted a broom-toting-fan in the balcony.