Celtics 92, Magic 88

Grand opening

Celtics get what they want, Game 1 win vs. the Magic

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / May 17, 2010

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The break wasn’t quite the same as the five days the Magic spent with their feet up before their Eastern Conference finals date with the Celtics yesterday, but it was long enough to get Ray Allen thinking.

The Celtics came back from Cleveland with four days between Games 2 and 3 in the Eastern semifinals, knowing as well as anyone that for a team on a mission, idle time is the enemy. And after winning Game 2 in Cleveland, they laid an egg in losing Game 3 at the Garden.

“It’s tough any time you have to sit around,’’ Allen said. “Especially at this time of year when you know you have a pretty good formula for how you have been playing basketball and everybody has a great rhythm.’’

The Celtics could have used the extra days coming off a grueling second-round series with the Cavaliers, but what they lacked in rest in Game 1 of the Eastern finals yesterday, they gained in momentum.

Boston’s defense strangled the Magic and Dwight Howard from the start of a 92-88 win over Orlando, smothering a team that hadn’t lost since April 2.

The extent of the Magic’s first-quarter offense was a Rashard Lewis putback, a hanging bank shot from Vince Carter, a Howard hook shot, an explosive drive and flush by Carter, and six free throws — only 14 points.

The team that was shooting a playoff-best 48.8 percent entering the series missed 16 of its first 20 shots, the Magic digging an early ditch the Celtics kept them in the rest of the afternoon.

After Howard stomped all over the Hawks, shooting a criminal 84 percent in Orlando’s sweep, the trio of Kendrick Perkins, Rasheed Wallace, and Glen Davis shoved, smacked, and otherwise harassed the Magic giant to the point that he was stopping in the middle of moves to argue with officials about non-calls.

After a third-quarter tangle with Wallace led to double technicals, Carter had to go to Howard to remind him that the battle on the floor was more important than the one with the officials. At that point, though, the Magic were already behind, 67-47.

“I don’t think we were prepared for the level that they were ready to play,’’ Carter said. “They were ready to go from the jump. And we weren’t on their level in the beginning, more than anything.’’

The Magic had taken target practice on the Celtics from 3-point range in the past, but yesterday everything beyond the arc was a wasteland. The Celtics held a team full of snipers to 5-of-22 shooting from distance.

“They have a list of guys that can beat you,’’ Celtics forward Kevin Garnett said. “It just comes down to one-on-one defense and everybody helping each other out. You have to contest shots and run them off the three. They are going to shoot 20 to 25-plus threes.’’

Allen hit a pair of threes, knocked down all seven of his free throw attempts, and finished with 25 points, his sixth 20-point game of the postseason.

Pierce was a one-man rally in the third quarter when he scored 13 of his 22 points, including a three-shot foul that put the Celtics ahead, 55-44. He had nine rebounds and dished out five assists, looking like a new man now that he was free from the burden of guarding LeBron James in the previous round.

The Magic had a staggering 21 total days of rest in the postseason. After eliminating the league’s best regular-season team, the Celtics had two days to brace themselves for the defending Eastern Conference champions.

“I really felt like the two days off was just enough,’’ Pierce said. “We’ve been playing every other day for the last week. We felt really good going into this game. The rhythm was there. The defense was there. The passing was there. We didn’t lose too much from the two days.’’

The Magic made a fourth-quarter push, outscoring the Celtics, 30-18, in the final quarter and giving Boston reason to be cautious going into Game 2 tomorrow night. The Celtics didn’t make a shot from the floor after Allen’s 25-foot 3-pointer made it 88-75 with 5:34 left in the game.

The Magic closed the gap to 90-88 when Carter and Jameer Nelson perfectly executed a purposely missed free throw/putback with 8.4 seconds left.

The Celtics managed to hang on but they know they can’t expect to continue to have those kinds of lapses.

“We’ve got to expect Orlando to be a lot better in Game 2, even though they had a week off,’’ Pierce said. “I don’t know if it helped or hurt them.

“Who knows what the outcome would have been if they had a shorter rest? That’s the way the schedule is. Hopefully we come into Game 2 with the same type of rhythm.’’

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