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Celtics better watch out for Nelson

Posted by Christopher L. Gasper, Globe Staff  May 25, 2010 12:13 PM

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300nelson.jpgYou couldn't miss it in the post-game press conference. Jameer Nelson's watch was massive. A shimmering black band with a face so expansive -- and no doubt expensive -- that it looked like a flat-screen TV was attached to the Magic point guard's wrist.

It was an apt accessory for Nelson to be sporting, though, because the little man's performance last night in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals was big time and a big reason the clock on the Magic's season didn't strike midnight.

For the first time in these playoffs, it was the other guys who had the dynamic point guard who imposed his will on the game and made crucial plays to quarterback his team to victory. There was no YouTube-worthy, Dave Cowens-channeling dive from Nelson, just a pick and roll clinic and clutch shots.

Orlando's adjustment to using staggered picks to free up Nelson left the Celtics staggered and relegated Rajon Rondo (muscle spasms) to an aching afterthought.

While Rondo was 3 of 10 from the field and had a meager 9 points and 8 assists, Nelson dropped 23 points (on 7 of 14 shooting) and had 9 assists. Delonte West's former backcourt mate at St. Joseph's was both fortunate and fearless. In overtime, Nelson hit back-to-back 3-pointers, banking in the first one and nailing the second to give the Magic a six-point lead, a lead they never relinquished, even with Nelson watching the game's final seconds from the bench after fouling out.

Even Superman needs a sidekick, and it's not a coincidence that Orlando got on the board in the Eastern Conference finals because they got an evening when Dwight Howard was on his game and his teammates didn't disappear.

It only took four games. Rashard Lewis finally showed up for the series, scoring 13 points -- or two fewer than he had in the first three games of the series -- and J.J. Redick was a pest as usual. But it was Nelson who put the broom back in Boston's closet.

If Game 3 goes in the Rajon Rondo NBA scrapbook, then Game 4 is a momentum-turning memento for Nelson.

"I thought his play throughout the game was the reason we got a chance to win," said Howard.

Celtics coach Doc Rivers wasn't happy with his team's execution or energy, but as a former point guard he had to tip his cap to Nelson.

"Jameer Nelson, I thought, even though he only had 23 points, I thought he dominated the game, this entire game," said Rivers. "I thought he went wherever he wanted to on the floor, and I thought he made big plays for them."

Celtics players Paul Pierce and Glen "Big Baby" Davis said the Magic made an adjustment to get Nelson going, bringing the stocky guard off staggered picks, allowing him to pick up speed coming off the picks and choose his spots.

Pierce said defending Nelson off the double screen is going to be an adjustment for Game 5 tomorrow.

"We either fouled somebody or they scored on it every time down," said Pierce. "It's an adjustment we're going to have to make in practice and see if we can do better."

The unassuming Nelson would never say it, but it had to irk him a little bit, all the chatter and proclamations about Rondo being the best point guard in the playoffs. It was Nelson, and not Rondo, who came into this series averaging more than 20 points per game. It was Nelson, not Rondo, who had led his team to two consecutive sweeps. It was Nelson, not Rondo, who is a captain of the defending Eastern Conference champions. They've both made one All-Star game -- Nelson in 2009 and Rondo this season.

This is a point guard matchup, not a mismatch.

Last night, Rondo wasn't even the best point guard in his own building -- blame it on the Sports Illustrated cover jinx -- and the Celtics need to make this a one-time occurrence or they could be making more than one trip to the Magic Kingdom.

For the first time this postseason, Mr. Rondo has a legitimate challenger. It will be interesting to see how he responds in Game 5. In the past, such point guard duels have brought out Rondo's best -- think his head-to-head with Derrick Rose in last season's playoffs -- and the Celtics should hope that's the case now, because Nelson won't back down.

When the game's gifted young point guards are compared and debated, it's rare that you ever hear Nelson's name. It is always Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Rondo, Russell Westbrook, and Derrick Rose. Even rookies Brandon Jennings and Stephen Curry get their due before Nelson.

But while all of those players, except Rondo, are sitting at home watching on TV, the overlooked Orlando point man put his game into overdrive and sent this series into extra time.

Point guard play could decide this series, which suddenly feels closer than 3-1 with the Magic heading home for Game 5 tomorrow and making bold statements. Magic coach Stan Van Gundy, with all the subtly of a neon sign, talked about how somebody at some point is going to be down 3-0 and win a series, and guard J.J. Redick, in the ultimate indignity to Boston sports fans referenced the 2004 Red Sox as inspiration for Orlando.

"You never know what can happen. Maybe we will be like the Red Sox and come back against the Yankees. You never know," said Redick.

The only thing missing was Nelson, who is from Chester, Pa., making like Rasheed Wallace, and plopping on a Flyers cap.

The Celtics better watch it because Nelson, like his gaudy timepiece, just made a statement.

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The word

Christopher L. Gasper riffs on the news

Dearth

...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.

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