magic 89, celtics 79

Celtics couldn't get leg up on Magic in loss

By Frank Dell'Apa
Globe Staff / March 8, 2009
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For a while last month, the Celtics seemed like they were all thumbs, three players sustaining injuries to the digit, Tony Allen's serious enough to require surgery. Now, right legs appear to be their Achilles' heel. The Celtics lost two players to right ankle sprains in less than 48 hours - preventing Rajon Rondo from playing and putting Glen Davis on crutches in the third quarter of an 86-79 loss to Orlando yesterday.

A makeshift lineup, without Kevin Garnett (right knee), contributed to the Celtics' worst first-half deficit of the season. It wasn't until late in the final quarter that the Celtics regained their defensive intensity and followed Ray Allen's lead in a remarkable rally that cut the deficit to 3 points in the final minute.

But the tone of this game was set in the opening minutes. The Celtics were out of synch with Stephon Marbury making his first start at point guard, and the team seemed to let down emotionally following Friday night's win over Cleveland.

Coach Doc Rivers said he went against his instincts in deciding to start Marbury instead of Eddie House. And some of the youngest Celtics, expected to play a role in relief while starters recover, did not get into the game. J.R. Giddens and Bill Walker were DNPs, and Gabe Pruitt played only 2:13. The Celtics concluded the contest with eight eligible players, Leon Powe fouling out in the final seconds.

Rondo could return for Wednesday's visit to Miami, but Tony Allen, Davis (who departed on crutches), Garnett, and Brian Scalabrine (concussion) will remain out.

"We missed everybody who was not out there," Paul Pierce said. "It just seems like every game bodies are going down. Rondo gets us off to a good start, [but] that's no excuse. We didn't really defend at a high level. One thing that is a mainstay of this team is our defense, and we didn't really show that from the beginning."

Allen scored 32 points (plus a season-high nine rebounds), 17 in the last quarter, but he missed a late 3-pointer from the corner in front of the Magic bench with a chance to tie the score.

Allen scored all the points on a 9-0 run over a 3:04 span, the Celtics making five successive defensive stops, his foul shot cutting the deficit to 82-79 with 1:22 remaining. Then, after a Rafer Alston misfire, Allen hurried a try that went long.

"When I came around the corner Dwight [Howard] was right there, and at the last second I shot it a little higher than I wanted and it hit the back of the rim," Allen said.

Orlando, led by Howard (18 points, 15 rebounds, 5 blocks), failed to convert from the field in the final 4:06.

"We showed resiliency out there as a team," Allen said. "We're not going to make the excuse of KG being out. We've got guys who are capable and, definitely the energy was there. We put forth the effort that got us back in the game."

The Celtics had nine turnovers and trailed by 7 points after a quarter, then committed two more turnovers in the second quarter and fell behind, 51-33, their worst first-half deficit of the season.

Davis sprained his ankle as he was called for his fifth foul, a charge against the defending of Marcin Gortat 5:35 into the second half. Former Celtic Tony Battie increased Orlando's lead to 65-43 with 4:31 remaining in the third quarter.

Pierce increased his career point total to 18,246, 1 ahead of Robert Parish for third place on the team's all-time list, with a free throw 2:27 into the final quarter. A Powe free throw pulled the Celtics within 79-70, then Orlando's Hedu Turkoglu nailed a 3-pointer.

"I don't believe in the whole moral victory [thing]," Rivers said. "But there were a lot of times where we could have just gave in. [Davis] goes down and it could have been a time where guys just say, 'Another injury, we can't do it.' But we didn't do that and we actually had opportunities to win the game.

"Down the stretch I told the guys I couldn't have been more excited about the execution. We got every shot we wanted, to the right guys - Ray two wide-open threes, Eddie had one. And, they just didn't go in.

"I just didn't like the start. I actually told my coaches, I just thought there was a lot of chatter in the locker room, where you could hear a pin drop the game before."

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