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Sunday, December 26, 2010
Celtics' late-game magic runs out

By Chris Forsberg
ESPNBoston.com

The Boston Celtics closed out practice Tuesday doing five-on-five half-court work and, on the final play, the green-clad starters cranked up their intensity a few notches and created a defensive stand that left the white-clad reserves, who had been competitive to that point, paralyzed offensively.

"The first unit knows that, whenever they want to, if they up their pressure, they can take the second unit out of anything they want to run," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said later.

Ray Allen
Ray Allen, who was pestered by J.J. Redick all day, watches as Redick hits a key shot late in the Magic's win Saturday.

And therein lay one of Boston's secrets to success during its low-on-style-points 14-game winning streak -- ramp up the defensive intensity late to salt away the win. Half of the 14 victories were decided by single digits, with the Celtics' opponent often hanging around for 3½ quarters before the Boston starters clamped down defensively.

But on Saturday, that formula fell apart as Boston's defense couldn't get it done, and instead the Orlando Magic tightened up, helping the home team snap Boston's winning streak with an 86-78 triumph at the Amway Center.

The Magic outscored Boston 15-1 over the final 3:20 of the game, mixing some inspired defense with clutch shooting as the Celtics let a 12-point lead slip away, coming undone at both ends of the court.

A handful of observations after watching the final four minutes again:

• The Celtics have never let a poor shooting performance stop them from trying to get the ball to Ray Allen in critical moments. So even though Allen finished a mere 3-of-13 shooting with nine points, the C's worked tirelessly to try to get him the ball in the final minutes.

But the Magic were equally adamant about denying Allen the ball, and J.J. Redick ran through an endless array of screens to prevent Allen from getting any open looks. That often left Boston settling for long jumpers elsewhere and the Celtics missed their final seven shots.

Even when Allen drove the lane with the game tied, Redick stripped the ball.

With Boston staring at a four-point deficit a short time later, Allen finally got free. It took a well-designed inbounds play in which Allen put the ball in play, then looped around through a double screen by Kevin Garnett and Glen Davis. Redick did a nice job staying in the neighborhood, even if he had to take the long route around Garnett. But Allen fired an air ball with 35.7 seconds to play, essentially sealing Orlando's victory.

• If Redick wasn't enough of a thorn on defense, he produced a monster bucket to give Orlando that four-point cushion. The Magic had been thriving in the pick-and-roll but Boston's defense short-circuited everything Orlando tried with the Magic holding a two-point lead in the final minute.

Redick ended up with the ball, curling above the free throw line with the shot clock running low, and canned a 20-foot pull-up jumper over Allen for an 82-78 advantage with 43 ticks left.

How rare was that shot for Redick? According to ESPN Stats & Information, Redick had registered just six total plays in isolation all season and was 0-for-4 from the field. He had a total of three points on those plays, all a result of being fouled.

• The Celtics also were outscored 13-0 over the first four-plus minutes of the game, meaning Boston outscored the Magic 77-58 over a 40-minute stretch in the middle of the game. One could chalk up Boston's initial struggles to being overamped for the start of the national showcase, but the Celtics were simply outplayed over the final 3:20.

Dwight Howard made three key free throws late in the game despite having a quiet night offensively. He finished with just six points on 1-of-4 shooting over 33 minutes. That's the fewest points scored by Howard in a regular-season game in exactly one year, as Boston limited him to five points on 1-of-7 shooting in the Celtics' Christmas triumph a year ago in Orlando. But on Saturday, Howard contributed a monster block on a Paul Pierce drive with Boston up five with 2:50 to go.

So the Celtics are left to shrug their shoulders and tip their caps, then file this one away for motivation when the teams meet again in Boston on Jan. 17 (and again at the TD Garden on Feb. 6, a matinee on Super Bowl Sunday). Boston simply got a taste of its own medicine Saturday.

Chris Forsberg is the Celtics reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.