Celtics make statement
Second-half rally stifles the Magic
ORLANDO - As if they wanted a national television audience to witness their resurrection, the Celtics last night played perhaps the most stirring 24 minutes of the Big Three era, and changed countless perceptions about their ability to reemerge as an Eastern Conference power.
Trailing by 27 points with 3:11 remaining in the second quarter and by 21 at halftime, the Celtics put on a brilliant defensive display in the second half, and Paul Pierce and rookie E’Twaun Moore turned in stellar offensive efforts in a 91-83 win over the Magic at the Amway Center.
The Celtics won for the second time this week over the Magic in stunning fashion. On Monday at TD Garden, the Magic were held to a franchise-low 56 points. Last night, the Celtics limited the Magic to 25 points in the second half, catching Orlando midway through the fourth quarter.
A team that took more than a month to round into playing shape, and considered by many too decrepit to compete, has turned its season around in a matter of days, pulling off the improbable without Rajon Rondo (wrist) and Ray Allen (ankle).
“This was a character builder for our team,’’ said coach Doc Rivers. “It’s all we talked about at halftime. Just get back in it, just hang in there long enough and just give yourself a chance to win. You know what I love about this team? Everybody responded.’’
A combination of the most experienced (Pierce) and the least experienced (Moore) helped the Celtics notch their third straight win. Pierce finished with 24 points, 19 in the second half, while Moore added a career-high 16 in 18 minutes. The Magic, meanwhile, missed 27 of 35 second-half shots and were outscored, 27-8, in the fourth quarter.
“I told the guys in the locker room [at halftime], if we just cut this lead in half, they’ll give us a chance to win the game,’’ said Pierce. “Once we saw the lead go to 11 at the end of the third, we were like, there’s some life right here. Usually Doc will pull the plug, especially in a back-to-back situation, if we’re down 18 going to the fourth quarter, but he saw there was life in us.’’
During the break between the third and fourth quarters, Rivers told Pierce he was going to pull him from the game after the first possession of the fourth. But Moore drained a 3-pointer 37 seconds into the quarter to reduce the deficit to 75-67, and Rivers scrapped his plan.
“We saw that they got frustrated,’’ Pierce said. “Yelling at the refs, picking up techs. We started getting to the loose balls. I thought we played with more energy the second half. We hustled. We were the aggressor.’’
Moore started the season missing 23 of 30 shots, but he did not lack for confidence in this one, draining a 3-pointer with 7:39 left that gave the Celtics a 79-76 lead, their first advantage since 10-9.
The Magic contributed technicals from Ryan Anderson and Dwight Howard. On offense, they resembled their Monday form, as they could barely complete a pass or take a positive step toward the basket without being harassed by a defender.
An offense that made the game look so easy, and the Celtics so helpless, in the first half, was suddenly inept. Glen Davis clanged shots off the rim. Howard couldn’t get position against the cagey defense of Kevin Garnett.
The Celtics’ second-half rally began innocently enough with an 8-2 spurt, as they were just trying to show that they were capable of playing hard. But Pierce heated and the deficit continued to dwindle. A Brandon Bass jumper cut it to 68-52 with 3:47 left in the third. A Moore 3-pointer sliced it to 13 with a little more than a minute left in the quarter. And Pierce drained a three with 10.8 seconds left as it was 75-64 heading into the frantic fourth.
The Celtics jumped out to an 8-2 lead after consecutive 3-pointers by Mickael Pietrus, and two quick fouls on Howard. With Howard on the bench and the Celtics seemingly motivated, it appeared they were ready to make another statement against the Magic.
But the final 20 minutes of the first half were horrific, with the Magic scoring 50 of the final 67 points, getting every break, bounce, and call as the Celtics looked disheveled. Orlando began the barrage with a 15-2 run, and looked as if it would coast.
However, the Magic had more turnovers (10) than field goals (8) in the second half, and missed seven free throws and 6 of 8 3-pointers. They have a history of wilting down the stretch in big games, and last night did nothing to dispel that.
“We didn’t play the right way and we have to change,’’ Howard said. “Everybody just can’t come down and feel like they have to take [over] the game. You just have to play team ball and play the way we want to play. We didn’t do that. We thought it was going to be easy after the first two quarters.’’