ORLANDO, Fla. — Minutes before Game 2, a fan sent a text to “MagicVision” on the Amway Arena Jumbotron. The text read: “Dwight you need to dominate!!!” Dwight Howard did just that.
And it didn’t matter.
The Celtics defeated the Orlando Magic 95-92 Tuesday night in Orlando, taking a decisive 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference Finals. The Celtics won in spite of Howard’s 30 points and 8 rebounds and despite Paul Pierce and Kendrick Perkins fouling out of the game. Boston’s offensive execution in the fourth quarter, as well as some poor time management by the Magic, tilted the game in favor of the Celtics.
“You know, I thought our execution down the stretch the last five minutes, that’s all we talked about after the game was that the ball kept finding the open guy,” said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. “We got back to trusting each other. And we got good shots down the stretch.”
The Celtics led by eight points at the end of the third quarter, and Rasheed Wallace threatened to put the game out of reach when he started the fourth with a three-pointer to put the Celtics up 81-70. But as they had done all game the Magic answered, cutting the lead to 85-83 at the 6:57 mark in the fourth. Vince Carter put them ahead 90-89 with a jumper with 3:36 remaining. A turnaround jumper by Kevin Garnett was the game’s only scoring until Rajon Rondo’s jumper with 1:33 left put the Celtics up 93-90.
The teams traded a Jameer Nelson layup and Pierce free throws and the Celtics clung to a 95-92 lead with 34.7 seconds left. On the next possession, Vince Carter drew the sixth foul on Pierce, but Carter missed both free throws, giving the Celtics the ball back with a three-point lead. Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy elected not to foul, and despite a miss by Garnett, the Magic got the ball back with only 3.5 seconds remaining after J.J. Redick delayed in calling a timeout.
“[The plan] was all covered in the timeout,” said Van Gundy. “We were playing, we had a six-second differential. We were playing for a stop and an immediate timeout.”
On the game’s final play, Nelson was guarded well and missed a long-three pointer that would have sent the game to overtime.
“[Calling timeout sooner] would have made a big difference, because if you watch that last play, Rashard [Lewis] got open,” said Van Gundy. “But because we were inbounding in the back court, [Michael Finley] was back in the passing lane and we could not make the pass to him.
“Look, we said in the [huddle] we were calling timeout. [Redick] just didn’t call the timeout. I’m not going to jump his [behind], anything else. But I’m also not going to make an excuse. We didn’t make the right play at the end.”
From that failed bit of execution to solid execution down the stretch by the Celtics, what made the final few possessions even more impressive for Boston is that they were able to execute without their leading scorer. Pierce had 28 points for the game, including 12 points in the first quarter and 22 points during what was a strange first half. While Pierce was torching Orlando, Garnett and Ray Allen combined to go just 1 of 9 before halftime. But the Celtics led at half despite the poor shooting of Garnett and Allen, Orlando failing to turn eight offensive rebounds and 17 free throws into a lead before the break.
Pierce’s 28 points made him the MVP for the Celtics, but the Celtics captain tangled with Orlando’s Game 2 MVP, Howard, in the second quarter. The game’s most tense moment came at the 4:16 mark in the second when Howard was called for a Flagrant 1 foul on Pierce. Howard fouled Pierce, then appeared to grab Pierce’s head or face while throwing the Celtics captain down to the floor. The foul fired up both teams — as well as the crowd — and caused emotions to flare in an already intense series.
“It was a good foul, a playoff foul,” said Pierce. “It didn’t warrant anybody an ejection… I have to take my lumps and keep moving on.”
Howard’s foul certainly wasn’t the only foul committed in Game 2. The teams combined for 56 total fouls. Howard and Perkins each picked up their fourth fouls within a minute of each other at the start of the third quarter, sending both big men to the bench. Perkins fouled out at the 7:44 mark in the fourth quarter, whereas Howard didn’t pick up another foul for the rest of the game. On the other side, Howard was the reason the Celtics got into foul trouble in the first place, the Magic All-Star going to the line 17 times in the game.
Outside of Howard, only J.J. Redick (16 points) and Vince Carter (16 points) scored in double-figures for Orlando. Kevin Garnett just missed a double-double with 10 points and 9 rebounds for the Celtics, while Rajon Rondo finished with 25 points, 8 assists, and 5 rebounds.
The Magic now go from not having lost in almost a month to having lost twice in the span of three days on their home floor. As fans filed out in stunned disbelief, a small group of Celtics loyalists hung around and chanted “Let’s go Celtics” as the home team’s supporters departed. There were only three of them, but their chant was audible in an increasingly empty Amway Arena.
The teams now have three full days off before returning to the court. Game 3 is Saturday night (8:30 p.m.) in Boston.
Said Rivers, “I wish we could take them to Alcatraz for four days and be on the island all by ourselves. That’s not going to happen.”
Final: Celtics 95, Magic 92 Jameer Nelson misses a very long three-point attempt as time expires. Celtics lead the series, 2-0.
3.5 seconds 4th quarter, Celtics 95-92 Orlando doesn’t foul, KG misses a jumper, and there are only 3.5 seconds left.
31.9 seconds 4th quarter, Celtics 95-92 Paul Pierce fouls out but Carter misses both free throws.
34.7 seconds 4th quarter, Celtics 95-92 The teams trade a Jameer Nelson layup for Paul Pierce free-throws.
1:33 4th quarter, Celtics 93-90 Rondo’s jumper puts the Celtics up three.
3:35 4th quarter, Magic 90-89: Vince Carter’s jumper puts the Magic back in front. Do the Celtics have enough fouls to give on Howard to last another three-plus minutes?
4:37 4th quarter, Celtics 89-85: Dwight Howard brings the Magic closer with a free throw. He’s 10 of 15 from the line in the game.
7:44 4th quarter, Celtics 85-79: Kendrick Perkins has fouled out of the game.
10:01 4th quarter, Celtics 83-77: Fifth foul on Rasheed Wallace, who’s three-pointer put the Celtics up 11 to start the fourth. Threes by Jason Williams and Mickael Pietrus have the Magic right back in it.
END 3d quarter, Celtics 78-70: The Celtics took the lead up to 10 points, but the Magic are hanging tough as we head to the fourth quarter. Paul Pierce hit just one shot in the third, but Kevin Garnett picked up the slack with six points.
5:05 3d quarter, Celtics 68-60: Dwight Howard is back in the game with those four fouls, and Kevin Garnett just took advantage, taking the big man outside and nailing a jumper. The Magic need Howard to be his imposing self despite the foul trouble.
7:59 3d quarter, Celtics 61-59: Less than a minute after Howard picked up his fourth, Perkins did the same. Both big men are now on the bench. Marcin Gortat (2 fouls) may be the key for Orlando in the second half. If he can be effective it buys the Magic some time before they have to bring Howard back in.
10:20 3d quarter, Tied at 55: Fourth foul on Dwight Howard. He’s out of the game for now.
Halftime, Celtics 53-51: Magic fans are booing the officials as they come off the floor. They’d be better off directing their anger at the Celtics. Boston’s defense has not been quite as stingy as it was in Game 1, the Magic making 45-percent of their shots in the first half.
This is a strange game. Paul Pierce has 22 points, but Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett are a combined 1 of 9. Dwight Howard is leading the Magic with 17 points and 4 rebounds.
About those officials: Howard has three fouls, but so do Kendrick Perkins and Glen Davis. And the most egregious foul of the game was made by Howard, who deserved the Flagrant 1 for his take-down of Pierce. From an objective standpoint, though, there have been bad calls on both sides.
1:58 2d quarter, Celtics 49-48: Howard picks up his third personal foul, and now he’s on the bench.
4:16 2d quarter, Tied at 42: Flagrant 1 foul on Dwight Howard, who followed through and grabbed Paul Pierce’s face as he threw Pierce to the ground. The intensity in the building has been taken up several notches.
5:54 2d quarter, Celtics 41-38: Perkins just picked up his third foul. The Celtics are short a big tonight with Shelden Williams out. Glen Davis and Rasheed Wallace will have to carry the load.
8:31 2d quarter, Celtics 34-33: Rashard Lewis just scored his first points for the Magic. He was just 2 of 10 in Game 1.
9:32 2d quarter, Celtics 34-30: The Celtics have already given up seven offensive rebounds, a stat that has to eat at Doc Rivers. Paul Pierce just checked back in for the Celtics.
END 1st quarter, Magic 28-27: There have already been more organic bursts of energy from the crowd than there were in all of Game 1, and for good reason. The home team is giving the fans something to cheer about. The Magic lead despite 12 points from Paul Pierce, using an 18-4 run when Pierce left the game. J.J. Redick broke loose for nine points in the quarter, including two three-pointers.
2:47 1st quarter, Celtics 23-20: So much for Doc Rivers saying the Celtics didn’t want to foul Dwight Howard. Howard’s been to the line five times already tonight.
4:08 1st quarter, Celtics 23-15: Kendrick Perkins picks up his second personal foul and is replaced by Rasheed Wallace, whom the Magic fans boo loudly.
6:34 1st quarter, Celtics 18-12: The Magic have come out stronger than in Game 1, but the Celtics have made 6 of their first 8 shots. Paul Pierce already has 9 points.
10:34 1st quarter, Magic 5-4: The officials are letting them play again here early, with Matt Barnes drawing a foul only after several Celtics committed fouls earlier during the same play. Barnes hits one free-throw to give the Magic their first lead of the series.
Pregame: Dwight Howard’s got the Magic dancing. The crowd is getting into it. Here we go.