Lessons from last night: Magic 84, Celtics 82
Lesson #1: It’s not just us, but yeah we can complain a bit.
"I want to know how some teams get on the list, where they get excuses and other teams are not on that list," said Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy during his postgame press conference last night. "All I’ve been hearing about is all the injury problems the Celtics have had this year."
Fair enough. The Magic lost their best perimeter player, Jameer Nelson, who was an All Star at the point this year, to a season-ending injury February 2. No one seems to be talking about this fact nowadays, which is partially Orlando’s fault-it just hasn’t bothered them enough to affect the way they play. They’ve been winning, and Nelson’s replacement, Rafer Alston, has been adequate. But the difference is quite noticeable. Nelson’s PER (Player Efficiency Rating) was 20.70, Alston’s is 13.44. That’s pretty similar to replacing Rajon Rondo for the season with Eddie House, although the way the four men earn their numbers is quite different: Nelson and House are shooters, Rondo and Alston have tremendous handle and poke at the ball like annoying eight-year-olds. Alston is one of the greatest street ball legends of all time, after all, better known as Skip to my Lou.
But, that being said, the Celtics have dealt with absurd injuries themselves. Rather than lose one key player for the season Boston has lost almost half a dozen at a time. At one point the Celtics didn’t dress Rondo, Kevin Garnett, Brian Scalabrine, Glen ’Big Baby’ Davis, and Tony Allen in the same game. Allen and Scalabrine are still out for the foreseeable future, KG is playing limited minutes, and Leon Powe has replaced Big Baby as our top reserve big man out for now. Bill Walker, Mikki Moore, and Stephon Marbury have taken larger reserve roles, which has turned the bench from an occasionally dominant unit earlier in the season into a breath-holding nightly experiment.
Lesson #2: NBA refs swallow their whistles in the waning moments unless you’re one of the holy trinity.
Who make up the holy trinity? Dwayne Wade, Kobe Bryant, and LeBron James. Remember this come playoff time.
NBA refs notoriously decide to "let the players decide the game" in the waning moments of big games-remember that Brent Barry play a couple years ago? That is, unless you’re Dwayne Wade in the NBA Finals against the Dallas Mavericks.
That happened last night against Orlando. On the second-to-last Boston possession, Paul Pierce drove hard to the basket and was fouled by Dwight Howard on a lay-up. Except the refs didn’t call it. Some, including ESPN announcer Marc Jackson, thought it was a clean block, and Howard had gone straight up, but I tremble to think what Celtics announcer Tommy Heinsohn said after that play. Had I not been watching the game on DVR I probably would have switched live to CSN just to see his reaction. Even Pierce said it wasn’t a foul, which is the right thing to say in this case: "The way the game was being called, I wasn’t fouled. I should have just taken the short jumper. Dwight made a great play on the ball."
The play was quintessential NBA officiating. In the first quarter, it’s a foul, in the fourth, it’s not. If it were the home team, it might have been a foul. If it were Kendrick Perkins jumping "straight up" rather than sweetheart Dwight Howard, it would have been a foul. That’s just the way it is, which makes home court important and could doom the Celtics against the Cavaliers should they both advance to the Eastern Conference Finals. As it currently stands, the only way that’s going to happen is if the Celtics can beat the Magic on the road at least once in the second round, which leads me to our third and final lesson of the night...
Lesson #3: The Celtics are much better than the Magic.
With KG playing only 17 minutes and Mikki Moore playing a terrible 11 minutes in which he contributed two points, one rebound, and four fouls, this isn’t exactly the playoff rotation for Boston. Powe and Scal are still out, and Tony Allen is too. If the three of them come back in time to contribute (or at least Powe), then the Celtics will instantly be noticeably better. Shortening the rotation further because, well, it’s the playoffs, will also mean a much better team. Meanwhile, the Magic are pretty much operating on full bore right now-they don’t have any tricks left up their sleeves.
Yet, Orlando only beat the Celtics by two points at home. With some generous calls from the refs. To be fair, the refs made some other questionable calls that favored the Green, but Dwight Howard was also allowed to sit in the paint for seven seconds every offensive possession so we’ll call it even on that front and say the refs played a part in the game.
If the Boston returns to health, they’ll return to the Conference Finals, this time against LeBrontourage and the mighty Cavaliers. My prediction: Boston in six games over Orlando in round two.