|Hedo Turkoglu plays keepaway from Paul Pierce in the first half. (Kevin Kolczynski/Reuters)|
Celtics can't make deficit disappear
Spirited run in fourth denied by the Magic
ORLANDO, Fla. - Celtics guard Rajon Rondo told a locker room attendant before departing to the team bus last night, "We should see you in a couple of weeks."
A Celtics-Magic second-round playoff matchup is certainly a possibility. Which team would have home-court advantage, however, remains to be seen.
With the Celtics' 84-82 loss at Amway Arena, the Magic are percentage points ahead of Boston for the No. 2 spot in the Eastern Conference.
"It was an important game," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "And obviously, if we could have won the game, it would have helped us. If they could win it, it could help them. So in that way, it's important. But our guys didn't put that much into that as far as [winning]. But every game's important. And they are far more important during it than afterward, you start thinking, 'Well, you have to play the next one.' But it was important in that way."
The season series ended, 2-2, with both teams winning one game on the road. A tiebreaker for the No. 2 spot could come down to divisional won-lost percentage.
The Celtics have six home games remaining, two against teams with winning records, and three road games, all against winning teams. Orlando has six home games remaining, one against a winning team, and five road games, two against winning teams.
"Obviously, we want to get into the second-place spot," said Magic forward Rashard Lewis, who had 21 points, including four 3-pointers. "It would be good for us, and it would be good to have home court. But regardless, you have to win on the road to win an NBA championship. You just can't win at home. The good teams go out on the road and win games."
Said Celtics forward Paul Pierce, who scored a game-high 26 points, "We are still right there [for the No. 2 spot]. The series is tied, 2-2. We just have to play better, especially on the road. We are still right there and both teams are neck and neck."
Boston scored only 18 points in the second quarter on its way to trailing, 47-39, at halftime. Orlando center Dwight Howard had 13 points and 12 rebounds by intermission, and Lewis added 15 points. The Celtics were down 16 points in the third quarter before finishing it behind, 70-62.
"For 30 minutes, the first 2 1/2 quarters, that was the best offensive basketball we've played against one of the top defensive teams in the league," said Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy.
The Celtics finally got it going offensively in the fourth quarter as Ray Allen's 3-pointer brought them within 81-78 with 3:30 left. Pierce's 13-foot jumper made it 83-82 with 1:27 remaining. Pierce missed a potential go-ahead jumper with 47 seconds left.
After Orlando's Hedo Turkoglu missed a 3-pointer with 22.9 seconds left, Allen got the rebound. Boston called a timeout with 15.1 seconds left to set up a play.
With 4.9 seconds left, Pierce took the ball strong to the basket. Howard, however, blocked the shot, and made contact with Pierce. Turkoglu got the ball and was fouled with 3.8 seconds left.
"I drove to the hole. The way the game was being called, I wasn't fouled," Pierce said. "I should have taken the short jumper. Dwight made a great play on the ball. It just put us in a bind after that."
Turkoglu made 1 of 2 free throws to give Orlando an 84-82 lead. The Celtics had one last chance. After getting the ball, Pierce was fouled by Turkoglu with 1.6 seconds remaining. Since Orlando had a foul to give, Pierce didn't earn free throws. Pierce ended up shooting a wild 3-pointer from the corner that missed badly.
Boston outscored Orlando, 20-14, in the fourth quarter, holding the Magic to 16.7 percent shooting.
"Our defense gave us a chance to win the game," Rivers said.
"This means a lot," said Howard, who had 24 points, 21 rebounds, and 4 blocks. "We came out and played very hard from the beginning of the game. That's what it's going to take if we're going to be a championship-contending team."
The Magic's wins over the Celtics this season come with sidelights. Orlando won, 86-79, March 8 in Boston, with the Celtics playing without Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett because of injuries.
Last night, Garnett was still on restricted minutes. He finished with 4 points and eight rebounds in 17 minutes, sitting out the second and fourth quarters.
"We have played them pretty well this season," said Allen, who had 16 points. "We look forward to playing them in the playoffs."
Marc J. Spears can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org