1. Boston's Defense Sets Tone In Opener
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Technically, it was just a foul. And since we're talking about Rasheed Wallace, we should be quick to note it was not a technical foul.
Instead, the foul in question was akin to something straight out of a martial arts movie, a haymaker of a hack across the arms of Dwight Howard on Orlando's first possession of the fourth quarter.
No matter that Howard subsequently went to the line and made both shots. The foul was one of several strong messages sent Orlando's way on an afternoon when the main message -- that defense is going to be the most important component of this series -- was delivered again and again and again.
This opponent isn't just going to give its fouls or use its fouls. The Boston Celtics are going to give those fouls with zest, with gusto.
And if the Orlando Magic can't take it, well, the Boston Celtics will take that.
"You've got to be physical. He plays physical," Wallace said after the Celtics defeated the Orlando Magic 92-88 Sunday in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals. "That's the one thing we looked at and seen over the last few series. Guys just let him do whatever he wanted to do. We're definitely going to fight him, we have a lot of fouls. I have my six, so do Baby [Glen Davis], Perk [Kendrick Perkins], Shelden [Williams], Kevin [Garnett]."
But the Celtics didn't merely play a dirty brand of defense. They stayed home on Orlando's shooters and defended the 3-point line so well, the Magic went 0-for-9 in the first half. They were active with their hands, poking balls away, getting their mitts on loose balls, stepping into passing lanes and coming up with eight steals.
Through three quarters, as Boston was building a 20-point lead, the Magic were making less than 38 percent of their shots. Yes, they recovered and made a late run at the end as the Celtics went more than five minutes without scoring a single point, but it was a quintessential case of having too little, too late.
"It was a defensive game, and we like those. That was fine with us," said Boston coach Doc Rivers, whose team clearly benefited from going up against an opponent that hadn't played a game in a week and hadn't played a tough team in more than a month.
And these Celtics were tough, frustrating Howard not only with their fouls, but also with their ability to push him away from the basket and take him away from his low-post comfort zone.
Kendrick Perkins was able to do it a year ago when the Celtics (without Kevin Garnett) took the Magic to seven games, and Wallace had done it in the past, when Orlando could never get past the Detroit Pistons back when Wallace was one of their defensive anchors.
"They're going to try to frustrate me and get into my head and play head games, and I have to do my best to maintain my focus," said Howard, whose 13 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks were discounted by his seven turnovers. "I got into a little wresting match with all their guys, and that's to their advantage. That takes me off my game."
There was no singular offensive star for the Celtics, who got 25 points from Ray Allen, 22 from Pierce (but only two in the fourth quarter) and 13 from Wallace. Kevin Garnett and Rashard Lewis basically played to a draw, Jameer Nelson had 20 points to Rajon Rondo's eight but lost the assists battle 8-2, and the bench contributions were basically a wash.
Where the difference came in this game was in which team took the fight to the other from the get-go, and the Celtics were that feistier team.
"That's who we are, we're a defensive team. We can get up on their shooters and not let them open their 3-point game," Pierce said.
Still, Rivers told the team at halftime that the Magic had attempted seven 3-pointers in the second quarter after taking only two in the first 12 minutes. And he warned them that eventually those 3s were going to start dropping unless Boston continued to defend at the arc.
And indeed, Orlando did hit five 3s in the second half while pulling as close as two (with 8.4 seconds left), but Allen iced the game by making a pair from the line with 6.1 seconds remaining.
With Boston coming off the emotional high of their victory over Cleveland after muddling through the final two-thirds of the season, Rivers had some explaining to do afterward.
How, for instance, could a team that had looked so lethargic so often turn things around so dramatically in the past couple of weeks?
"We're old, so I think a lot of our guys in the regular season when they were out with injuries, it's tough to work on defense when you don't practice, or you only have eight guys for practice," Rivers said. "But everyone is healthy, everyone's listening, and everyone's buying into our defensive schemes."
Those schemes limited the Magic to just 14 points in the first quarter and 18 in the second. The Magic then allowed a 20-3 run midway through the third quarter as the Celtics went up 65-45, with Howard and Wallace getting double technical fouls toward the end of the run for getting a little too personal as they untangled their locked arms.
"That was a wake-up call we really needed, in my opinion," said Carter, who was Orlando's most aggressive player, attacking the paint and trying to create offense. "They're relentless, they're aggressive, they do a great job of contesting, especially in the paint, and it took us a while to figure it out, but when we did we played a lot better."
Wallace told Rivers back in the preseason that he'd end up being judged on his body of work in the playoffs, not the regular season.
So far, so good.
ESPN Insider Chris Sheridan is a regular contributor to the Daily Dime.
2. Magic Start Slowly In Game 1 Loss
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Was it rust? Or did it signify deeper problems?
We won't know the answer to that question until the rest of the series plays out, but let's start with the facts we do know: The Orlando Magic barely showed up on offense until midway through the third quarter, amassing a deficit so large that not even the Celtics could blow it, and that was the key to the Magic's 92-88 Game 1 defeat to Boston.
Of particular note was the first 16 minutes, when Boston frustrated Orlando at every turn by getting hands on balls, running shooters off the 3-point line and denying Dwight Howard quality looks on the block. With eight to go in the second quarter, the Magic had amassed the pathetic total of 14 points and already were down 15 points; essentially, they built themselves a hill too great to climb.
"I don't think we were prepared for the level they were ready to play," said Vince Carter, who was just about the only Magic player to show up in the first quarter and a half and finished with a team-high 23 points. "They were ready to go from the jump, and we weren't on their level from the beginning."
"We were anxious," said Howard, who struggled to a 3-for-10 night and was responsible for seven of the Magic's 18 turnovers. "I don't think we moved the ball like we needed to get them off our bodies. That's what we have to do to beat this team."
From the middle of the second quarter on, the Magic looked more like the Orlando Magic team that had contested the previous 90 games, but so great was their deficit that they couldn't come back despite exploding for 41 points in the final 14 minutes -- including an incredible intentional free-throw miss and layup connection by Carter and Jameer Nelson.
"We fought like heck to get back in the game," said Carter. "Unfortunately, when you're down that many points -- when they defend like they do, it's going to be tough."
To read the entire column, click here
3. Celtics Getting Physical With Howard
ORLANDO, Fla. -- You can almost picture the scene: The Celtics bunkered down for film study at their practice facility, coming off an intense six-game series with the top-seeded Cleveland Cavaliers, and watching tape of the Orlando Magic essentially waltz through the first two rounds of the 2010 NBA playoffs.
But what stands out most is how the opposition offers little in the way of resistance against Dwight Howard, allowing Orlando's uberathletic center to get to the rim uncontested and convert an array of dunks and layups.
The Celtics are half appalled, half salivating. It won't come that easy against them, they promise each other.
And for all 39 minutes he was on the court in Sunday's Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals, absolutely nothing came easy for Howard as the Celtics took turns hacking away at him en route to a 92-88 triumph at Amway Arena.
Howard finished 3-of-10 from the field for a pedestrian 13 points and a condemning minus-9 in the plus/minus category.
But that's not the most impressive nine on the stat sheet. That would be the nine fouls the Celtics committed on Howard, whacking him four times in the first quarter alone and letting him know that he'll have to earn every point he accrues this series.
To read the entire column, click here
4. Daily Dime Live Recap
ESPN.com writers and TrueHoop Network bloggers chatted with fans and gave their in-game opinions throughout Sunday's game -- all in Daily Dime Live.
5. Extreme Behavior
Paul Pierce, Celtics
He did a little bit of everything, posting 22 points, nine rebounds and five assists (his 19th career 20-5-5 playoff game) as Boston held off Orlando for a 1-0 series lead.
Rashard Lewis, Magic
Dwight Howard wasn't the only Orlando player who struggled on offense. Lewis went 2-for-10 from the field (missing all six 3-point attempts), totaling just six points in 43 minutes.
QUOTE OF THE NIGHT
"From a throne somewhere in Cleveland: 'See! See! It wasn't just me.'"
-- ESPN.com's Justin Verrier on his Twitter account after the Celtics, who eliminated LeBron's Cavs, won Game 1 against the Magic
6. NBA Video Channel
7. Allen Lights Up The Magic
In Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals, Ray Allen took a step toward redeeming his hit-or-miss performance from the Celtics-Magic series of last postseason. In three of the four losses in that series, the future Hall of Fame player totaled just 22 points on 7-for-36 shooting. Overall in the series, he shot just 34 percent from the field and 19 percent (8-for-42) from 3-point range. With both teams heading into this series at full strength, containing Allen and his outside shooting is once again a key to Orlando's second straight Finals berth.
The scheme for the Magic to slow him down on the perimeter was to put Matt Barnes on Allen early and hope he could keep up through all of the movement and screens. With Barnes' long arms and quickness, he should be able to fight through the screens and close out enough to challenge most of Ray's jumpers. But Orlando was not able to get much out of this strategy.
Allen adjusted to the Magic's plan by going to the basket and getting the majority of his points attacking the rim. His first 14 points of a game-high 25 came off layups and free throws after getting fouled on drives to the hoop. Ray ran off screens, dribbled past defenders that were playing too far up on him and got out into transition for some easy points. He took advantage of having a quickness advantage over substitutes like J.J. Redick and Mickael Pietrus while capitalizing on every defensive mistake Barnes committed.
Allen helped set the tone by not fearing the presence of Dwight Howard inside and making it a point to attack the basket. Now Orlando has to plan for an aggressive Allen, who can score from anywhere.
To read more from Harper, click here
8. Orlando's Rally Falls Short
The Orlando Magic relinquished home-court advantage with a 92-88 loss to the Boston Celtics in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals, but not before rallying back in the game after being down by as many as 20 points in the second half. After Ray Allen made a 3-pointer to increase the Celtics' lead to 13 points with 5:33 left to play in the fourth quarter, the Magic went on a 13-4 run after being thoroughly outplayed for the majority of the game.
One of the spark plugs for Orlando during the comeback was J.J. Redick, who saw minutes at shooting guard as Vince Carter slid over to the small forward position. It was a calculated choice by head coach Stan Van Gundy, given that Matt Barnes was struggling on the floor and having some trouble defending Allen. Perhaps Barnes' problems running around could be attributed to the fact that he's been suffering from back spasms lately. In any case, Redick was able to provide a jolt of energy the Magic needed on both ends of the court -- especially on offense, where Redick was able to influence better ball movement and floor spacing for Orlando.
Many times during the game, Orlando would go on a scoring spurt and cut into the deficit, but almost every time, Boston would respond with a bucket or two. However, in the final period, the Magic were able to string together stops defensively. Dwight Howard, who struggled on offense, was able to make a few key blocks to keep the Celtics from scoring. Redick did an effective job of chasing Allen around screens and running him off the 3-point line whenever possible. There are more examples of Orlando's defensive efforts, but these are some of the sequences that stood out the most.
Fast-forward to the end of the game: The Magic were able to cut the deficit to two points with eight seconds left after Carter purposely missed his second free throw attempt and Jameer Nelson, somehow, maneuvered his way into the lane to make a layup off the miss. However, Allen was able to make his free throws, and that was essentially the ballgame.
To read more from Rivera, click here
9. Wallace Stepping Up For Celtics
ORLANDO, Fla. -- The only thing Doc Rivers could truly rely upon when it came to Rasheed Wallace was hope.
Hope that Wallace would finally show up in the playoffs and be the veteran game-changer the Celtics thought they were getting when they signed him.
"Because of the ups and downs you absolutely had to remind yourself of that," Rivers said after his team knocked off the Magic in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals. "Because everyone else was reminding me of what he wasn't doing. One thing I will say about Rasheed, and he said it throughout [the season], 'It doesn't matter what I've done in the regular season, I will be judged for what I do in the playoffs.' I didn't want him to take that literally throughout the season, but he's been terrific. He's a knowledgeable big who has a lot of game. I thought today defensively he did some old tricks that were just terrific."
Wallace played only 20 minutes on Sunday afternoon, but he gave the Celtics the type of boost that they've been trying to get out of him all season. Sure, he scored 13 points, but along with Glen Davis and Kendrick Perkins, he locked up Magic center Dwight Howard all day.
"You got to be physical," Wallace said after the game. "He plays physical. I think that was the thing we looked at in film over the last few series, guys just let him do whatever he was going to do down there. We're definitely going to fight him."
The fight from Wallace and company clearly shook Howard -- he was just 3-for-10 from the field and turned the ball over seven times.
"I think I got into a little wrestling match with all those guys," Howard said. "That's playing to their advantage. They want me to wrestle and fight with them. That takes me off my game. So I just have to not wrestle with them. Just play."
Wallace was on his game on Sunday, and that's one of the biggest reasons why the Celtics head into Tuesday night's contest with a lead.
Wallace's performance surely must have surprised Boston fans who have watched him sleepwalk throughout the season, but it didn't shock his teammates.
"Rasheed hit his stride at the right time," Perkins said. "He got in great shape. Right now he's playing at a high level and he's just doing what we asked him to do. He's giving us a huge lift off the bench right now."
Better late than never for Rivers.