The opening 27 minutes were all about
For 27 minutes, the Celtics played without energy or courage, which is why they found themselves down 65-37 early in the third quarter. For the next 21 minutes, the Magic played without a brain, and so they were outscored 53-30 down the stretch.
In other settings, the absence of a brain, heart and courage will end with
"For the first 30-32 minutes, we played the best we've played all year," said Orlando coach
To switch genres, it was like watching
"I give all their guys credit," said Van Gundy of the Celtics' revival, "but Rondo was the guy who turned everything around. His pressure: We couldn't get into offense, he was forcing turnovers and he had us very unorganized.''
The absence of Orlando's leader since February, when Nelson suffered his season-ending shoulder surgery, may be the gravest issue facing this team. Apart from the Lakers or Cavaliers, no opponent as currently situated in the playoffs would have the talent to dominate this Magic team -- if only they had Nelson making threes, running the pick-and-roll and taking responsibility for telling everybody else what to do under duress. Which is not to criticize
Alston was highly effective in the first half, as well. Under his guidance, four teammates -- led by
Then that changed. It was as if he attacked the hole of Nelson's absence. The Celtics went from attempting zero free throws in the first half to going 22 of 26 from the line. Rondo would go 2 for 12 (a performance matched crucially by
As Rondo returned to the bench he was reminded of what he and the Celtics have been missing for the last two months: Garnett in his long tailored suit was leaning down to scream in his ear for almost turning the ball over for no good reason.
"The end of the game puts you at a point that you're not ecstatic," Van Gundy admitted. "But we got the win. It's still a much better night for us than for them."
The Magic did build that 28-point advantage, and all of Garnett's constructive criticism could not take that away from them. Coming off the extravaganza of seven overtime periods in seven games against Chicago not 46 hours earlier, the Celtics entered this game with an obvious emotional hangover. Garnett probably would have done something to prevent that, while also squelching the Magic's ability to get any kind of shot they wanted.
"When you shoot zero free throws for a half, that means your team is completely unaggressive," said Rivers. He added: "We played flat, we played with no energy in the first half, but it wasn't fatigue. Obviously, I've got to do something to get them going better.''
But how much can he do? The Celtics are now 0-3 against Orlando since Garnett's injury. Combined with the season-ending injury to
Which missing star -- Garnett or Nelson -- will turn out to be the more valuable player? This is one award neither team wants to win.