Magic easily regain lead over Celtics
ORLANDO, Fla. - This has been a postseason on the brink for the Celtics. After a first-round series with Chicago that was the most closely contested in league history, the Celtics have played in three blowouts against the Orlando Magic, falling behind in the series after a 117-96 defeat in Game 3 last night.
The Magic took control from the start and can move within a game of eliminating the Celtics in Game 4 tomorrow. The question for the Celtics will be which defensive version will show up - the one that allowed Orlando to shoot a team playoff-record 59.1 percent from the field last night or the one that led the league in field goal percentage defense in the regular season?
"We're a defensive team first and this is probably our poorest defensive game of the year," captain Paul Pierce said. "I look up and they're shooting 60 percent and they score  points in the fourth quarter. And that's not us. I think the fourth quarter is when we make our statement on defense, we buckle down and get stops, and we didn't do that.
"I thought they kept us on our heels all night. We were indecisive defensively and it was a long night. We did not get out to their shooters. We allowed [Dwight] Howard to come down the middle. When you give them their inside game and their outside game, you don't have a chance."
Pierce has had a strange shooting experience the last two games, extending his scoreless streak to nearly four quarters before leading a late rally and finishing with 27 points.
The Celtics closed to within 8 early in the final quarter, but they appeared to lose momentum after center Kendrick Perkins was assessed a flagrant foul.
After falling behind by 20 early in the second half, the Celtics concluded the third quarter with a 15-4 run over a 3:55 span. The Celtics scored the final 8 points of the quarter, a Rajon Rondo steal and dunk cutting the deficit to 78-69.
But after a Pierce foul shot, Orlando had a 3-point possession, which included the flagrant foul on Perkins and double technicals for Eddie House and Orlando's Hedo Turkoglu with 10:15 remaining. Mickael Pietrus hit one of two foul shots, and nine seconds later Rashard Lewis converted two free throws to make it 86-75.
On the Celtics' next possession, Howard picked up his fifth foul. But Orlando managed to increase its lead to 16, Turkoglu scoring 7 points in a 1:44 span, giving Orlando a 95-79 advantage with 7:16 remaining. The Magic again went ahead by 20, and the Celtics sent in reserves Gabe Pruitt and Bill Walker for the final 3:50.
The Magic got dunks from Lewis and Anthony Johnson on two of their first three possessions. Johnson, replacing suspended starter Rafer Alston, directed the offense and Lewis (28 points) and Turkoglu (24) provided the scoring.
"Our defense was awful," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "They made every shot. I thought they were the aggressor for the entire night and we were the retaliators the entire night. We were running into picks and didn't communicate very well. A team that led the NBA in field goal percentage and is supposed to be a great defensive team; we sure didn't act that way."
Orlando converted four layups and two dunks in taking a 14-6 lead 6:16 in. The Celtics regrouped following a timeout with 5:21 remaining in the quarter, creating offense by driving the lane.
Pierce, scoreless since the first minute of Game 2, hit a lefthanded shot with 44.8 seconds remaining to break a scoring drought of 59:14.
But the Magic continued to pick and roll, and that led to more drives, dunks, and layups.
"We didn't defend the pick and roll and that's not something we've done for a long time," Pierce said. "We weren't aggressive with our shows and getting up into guys, we allowed them to come up into picks and find Howard.
"They took the fight to us and we waited until we get 16, 18 points behind. It can't be that way, especially on the road. We've got to set the tone.
"Definitely, our backs are against the wall. We're a team that's been fighting back all year and I have total confidence. We've just got to make minor adjustments. This team will be ready to bounce back Sunday and get the home court back."