Boston fans will never forget the rally by the Red Sox in the 2004 ALCS after trailing the Yankees 3-0. The same group will never forgive the Celtics if they blow what once was a 3-0 lead over the Magic in this year's Eastern Conference Finals. The pressure is clearly on the banged-up Boston ballers as they host Orlando tonight at TD Garden for Game 6. ESPN will have all of the basketball action starting at 8:30 p.m. Eastern.
There’s blood in the water.
The Eastern Conference Finals between the Orlando Magic and the Boston Celtics have underdone a dramatic sea change. The Celtics were up 3-0 in this best-of-seven series; now they’re up 3-2, and they’re staggering into Friday’s Game 6 on just one day of rest after taking a tremendous amount of punishment in Game 5. Orlando ran away with that contest, 113-92 as a 4-point home fave.
Three of Boston’s reserve players are game-time decisions for Friday. Glen Davis (14.27 playoff PER) suffered a concussion after taking an inadvertent Dwight Howard elbow to the head, but it appears Davis will play Game 6 after reportedly showing no signs of headache during Thursday’s film session.
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Rasheed Wallace (12.67 PER), on the other hand, couldn’t even sit down because of back spasms. He’s listed as day-to-day.
The third bench player to leave Wednesday’s game was little-used guard Marquis Daniels, again because of a concussion after running into the brick wall known as Marcin Gortat. Daniels is the least likely of the three to play on Friday, but at this point, the Celtics need all hands on deck.
And they got a much-needed break when they learned that Kendrick Perkins (9.78 PER) would be available for Game 6. Perkins was tossed from Game 5 after picking up two technical fouls, leaving him with seven during the playoffs and an automatic one-game suspension. The league (correctly) rescinded one of the two technicals.
With the Celtics falling like dominoes and Orlando turning up the juice on offense, the 'over' had no trouble getting to the pay window in Game 5 on the total of 186½ points. The first four games of the series were defensive struggles; Game 4 only went 'over' because of the overtime frame in a 96-92 victory for the Magic (+7) that prevented Boston from completing the sweep.
The 'under' had gone 11-1 in their previous dozen contests, but losing the services of Perkins, Davis, and Wallace in the paint would have left the Celtics vulnerable to another beating at the hands of the Magic offense.
The books responded to the news about Perkins by pumping up the betting odds from Boston -3 at the open to Boston -3½ at press time. Consensus reports showed bettors siding with the Celtics at a 2:1 ratio; as is often the case with small favorites, the underdog Magic were the preferred choice of bettors at +140, pulling in 55 percent support.
But the big takeaway here is that the Celtics have seen their pointspread at the Garden cut in half. It’s a rule of thumb that home court is worth four points, which suggests the market sees Orlando as the better team right now.
This is indeed a tight spot for Boston fans. The underdog is 8-2 ATS in the last 10 meetings between these two clubs. So is the away team. But more important than the trends are the adjustments Magic coach Stan Van Gundy has made in this series. In Game 5, he took advantage of Rajon Rondo (who also suffered back spasms in Game 4) by speeding up the transition offense, leaving Rondo behind as Jameer Nelson hustled the ball down the court. Nelson and Howard (and J.J. Redick) are already doing considerable damage on the pick-and-roll; shaking Rondo’s defensive blanket just makes the Magic that more effective.
There’s also been a Rashard Lewis sighting in central Florida. Lewis had his best game of the series on Wednesday with 14 points on 6-of-11 shooting, all in just 24 minutes of action. This could be the whole series here: Lewis told reporters before Game 5 that he had been playing through a viral infection and required intravenous fluids before each game of this series. He certainly looks much better now.
Lewis killed the Celtics in last year’s playoffs, albeit with Kevin Garnett sitting out injured. He can do it again this year with the Boston frontline at less than full strength.
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