What we learned: Celtics-Magic
Dwight Howard can negate any size disadvantage by himself
You live by the three, you die by the three
J.J. Redick will be a factor in the NBA playoffs
ORLANDO -- As he emerged from the showers, Dwight Howard succinctly summarized Orlando's 90-80 loss to the Boston Celtics Thursday night. "Every time I looked up, I saw green," Howard said. "I thought I was in Boston."
Howard's assessment was spot-on. Boston's swarming defense limited Orlando's All-Star center to 11 points and the prolific Magic offense to a season-low point total on their way to a runaway victory over the conference leaders. "Defensively, they were just great," said Magic coach Stan Van Gundy. "I've got to find a way for us to get some ball movement and freedom of movement where we can get some shots."
Here are five things we learned from Thursday's Eastern Conference showdown.
1. Dwight Howard can negate any size disadvantage by himself.
If you're ranking Orlando's weaknesses, a lack of size has to be at the top of the list. Rashard Lewis (6-10) and Hedo Turkoglu (6-10) have the height, but combined they lack the girth of Boston's Glen Davis. Howard, however, can be the great equalizer. In the first quarter alone Howard drew two fouls on Kendrick Perkins and Davis, forcing Perkins to the sidelines and Davis to adopt a more finesse approach. Van Gundy admitted on Wednesday that the Magic were struggling to find consistent scoring when they play a big lineup (e.g. with Tony Battie or Brian Cook at power forward). If Howard can force opposing bigs to the bench with foul trouble, it solves Orlando's biggest problem.
2. You live by the three, you die by the three.
When the Magic are hot, as they were when they set an NBA record for three-pointers against Sacramento on January 13th, it's like having to play an NBA Live team that has punched in the "Fire" cheat code. When they are cold, well, a pretty good high school squad could play with them. Orlando shot an anemic 12.5 percent from three-point range in the first quarter, 21.4 percent in the first half and 31.8 percent for the game. Getting out on Orlando's shooters isn't a revolutionary game plan. But Boston's effectiveness at limiting Howard with only the occasional digs and by contesting virtually every jump shot may become a blueprint for future teams playing Orlando.
3. J.J. Redick will be a factor in the playoffs.
Yes, that J.J. Redick, the same player who played 76 games in his first two seasons and whose career scoring average is a meager 5.3 points a game. Van Gundy hinted on Wednesday that Redick may see more playing time as the season continues and he was true to his word Thursday night: Redick played 26 minutes, scoring six points. That may not seem like much, but you could tell that Boston was always aware when he was on the floor. Redick drew a foul on Ray Allen on a pump fake and had Boston's guards sticking close to him throughout the game. You could see why the Celtics are interested in acquiring him: A reliable source confirmed a report that the Magic and Celtics have had discussions involving Redick this month.
4. Superstar calls are alive and well in the NBA.
After Orlando's 106-88 win over Denver last Saturday, a frustrated George Karl vented to reporters about the so-called "Howard Rules." There [are] two sets of rules," Karl said. "A set of rules for Howard and a set of rules for [Nuggets center] Nene." I feel you, George. During the course of reporting a story on NBA referee Scott Foster, I was told by sources that the common complaint among NBA referees was that there were too many "superstar calls" that were made (or not made) with the goal of keeping star players in the game. Well let me tell you, superstar calls are still alive and well. In the first half I watched Howard hack both Perkins and Davis on layup attempts. These weren't ticky-tack hacks, either; I'm talking audible-from-three-rows-deep, leave-a-red-mark shots. I'm all for physical play -- personally I think officials call too many fouls -- but the rules have to be the same for everybody. And even though Howard fouled out of the game in the fourth quarter, on Thursday night, they were not.
5. Even NBA players are in awe of Tiger Woods.
The golf icon had a courtside seat for the game and within minutes of taking the floor every Celtic was aware of his presence. Kevin Garnett pointed at him while in layup lines while Paul Pierce and Ray Allen walked over and shook his hand. The best reaction of the night came from Davis, who practically hopped out of his uniform when he spotted Woods. "That's Tiger Woods," Davis shouted.