BOSTON -- We may never get an accurate answer as to why the 2010 Celtics have motored through the postseason looking a lot like the '08 version.
Maybe someone whispered in
Opponents have certainly played a role in Boston's revival. Miami had checked out and paid the bill on the '09-'10 season before they got to Boston for Game 1.
The thumping of Orlando, highlighted by Boston's 94-71 win in Game 3 on Saturday, is a little harder to explain. The Magic breezed through the first two rounds of the playoffs, racking up an 8-0 record without breaking a sweat. They had the most dominant big man, two-time Defensive Player of the Year
But the Magic have been no-shows at the Eastern Conference finals. They got thumped on their home court in Game 1, lost their composure in Game 2, with
Before Game 3, the Magic were loose. Howard sauntered around the locker room in his Under Armour underwear, humming R&B songs and goofing on Chinese reporters.
To a man, the Magic expressed confidence. And to a man, the Magic folded on the floor. The game opened with
Sure, Boston was good. But in this series, the Magic have come unhinged. With
Lewis is, in many ways, the face of Orlando's struggles, but he has plenty of company. Carter has looked tentative, unwilling to absorb the contact that comes with playing against Boston's physical D. Twice on one possession in the first half, Carter turned down two point-blank shots in favor of kick-out passes. Meanwhile Pierce and
Howard, too, has succumbed to Boston's physical play. He followed up a 13-point stinker in Game 1 with an impressive 30-point performance in Game 2. But in Game 3 -- with Perkins, Wallace and Davis hanging off Howard's shoulders like they were a coat hanger -- he was back to his old tricks, sinking 3-of-10 field goals, 1-of-4 free throws and finishing with a
"Perk, Rasheed and Baby are doing a hell of a job," said
The hustle points aren't there, either. Rondo gave
"If that doesn't energize your team," said Rivers, "nothing will."
Orlando's perimeter D is lazily closing out on Boston's shooters, allowing the Celtics to knock down 54.5 percent of their three-point attempts in Game 3.
"They were one step ahead of us on every play," said
Still, Orlando's problems are largely a result of Boston's shocking play. The Celtics are on the brink of their second NBA Finals appearance in three years because, after an embattled regular season, they have come together and gelled as a unit.
They have Rondo, who has seized the superstar mantle from Pierce, Garnett and Allen and run with it.
They have Perkins, who may be the best low-post defender in the league.
They have a suddenly superior bench boosted by the consistent efforts from the often inconsistent
And they have a Big Three playing with a sense of urgency only a trio of 30somethings looking at the end of the line can understand.
"We're motivated by what's at stake," said Pierce. "We see the big picture as a team. You feel it. You feel it in practice. You feel it when we're on the court. The guys smell it right now. They know what it feels like to be in a championship. You're starting to see urgency really, really come out the closer we get."