It took Orlando three quarters to shake off the rust that had accumulated after sweeping Atlanta in the conference semis. Once the Magic came alive, Dwight Howard and Company dominated Boston. But it was too little, too late for Game 1 that went to the Celtics. How Orlando responds in Game 2 remains to be seen, and it can be seen Tuesday night from Amway Arena at 8:30 p.m. (ET) on ESPN.
When you handicap an NBA team’s recent performance, how recent do you like to keep things? How about just the last 12 minutes of the last game?
If that’s how you roll, the Orlando Magic must look pretty good for Game 2 of their Eastern Conference final against the Boston Celtics. Boston was all over the Magic in the first quarter of Sunday’s Game 1, opening up a 20-10 lead while Orlando stumbled up and down the court, clearly unprepared for what the Celtics were bringing to the table.
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The Magic eventually righted themselves and outscored Boston 30-18 in the fourth quarter, but it wasn’t enough to escape a 92-88 defeat, their first of the playoffs. Orlando was favored by 6½ points at home with a total of 188.
The betting odds for Tuesday’s rematch have reacted only slightly to Orlando -7½, with the total moving from 186½ points at the open back up to 188 at press time.
Sharps were pounding the 'under' in Game 1 and rightfully so; the Magic were the most efficient defensive team in the NBA during the regular season at 100.2 points allowed per 100 possessions, and they’ve tightened up to 94.9 points allowed during the playoffs. The Celtics have improved from 101.1 points allowed per 100 possessions (No. 5 overall) to 97.2 points allowed (No. 2 behind Orlando).
Despite the defensive reputation the Magic and Celtics carry into the arena, the market hasn’t adjusted for how nasty and brutal this matchup has become. The 'under' is 8-1 in the last nine games these teams have played. Not only that, the road team is 5-1 SU and 6-0 ATS in their last six. Home-court advantage is no longer as dominant an issue it was in the first two rounds of the playoffs – especially not with these two teams:
Celtics (away): 30-17 SU, 25-21-1 ATS
Magic (away): 29-16 SU, 26-18-1 ATS
The tenor of this series can and will change when it moves to the Garden, where the Celtics have been soaking in chalk this year at 17-29-1 ATS. But for Tuesday’s Game 2, we have yet another opportunity for sharps to lay some wood on the 'under', and the market has been goosing the total upward with 87 percent support for the 'over,' according to the consensus reports. The Celtics were getting 93 percent support as their bandwagon starts to fill up.
It’s amazing to think of the immensely public Celtics as an undervalued property. And yet here we are with the 2007-08 champions at 9-3 ATS in these playoffs, having humbled Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat, then LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Much of Boston’s betting value comes from the emerging superstar Rajon Rondo at point guard. Up until this year, Rondo was fighting to be recognized as a legitimate All-Star. Now he’s won over the hearts and minds of the team’s veteran players.
The Celtics are also getting help off the bench from two players who were virtually invisible during the regular season. Rasheed Wallace posted a 13.18 PER this year, his worst output since his forgotten rookie year of 1995-96 with the Washington Bullets. However, Wallace has already proved to be a thorn in Dwight Howard’s side, committing hard fouls against Orlando’s star player with perfect impunity.
“That takes me off my game,” Howard admitted to reporters after the series opener. He scored just 13 points (equaling Wallace in a reserve role) in Game 1 on 3-of-10 shooting with seven turnovers.
Boston is also getting valuable bench minutes from Tony Allen, a quiet two-way player easily forgotten on a team that already includes Ray Allen. Who’s the better player? Right now, it’s Tony Allen with a 16.06 playoff PER compared to 15.96 for Jesus Shuttlesworth. The younger Allen helped limit the Magic to 5-of-22 shooting from the perimeter in Game 1 as the Boston bench held firm against Orlando’s superior reserves. Plus, he drew five fouls to keep Rondo and Ray Allen out of trouble in the backcourt.
This is a serious problem for the Magic. They could get swept out of this series if they lose Game 2 at home. I’m personally inclined to watch these two teams beat the tar out of each other while I take the 'under, but if you want to pick a side, Boston is hoarding the betting value at the moment.