A week ago everything was going the Magic's way. Dwight Howard and his mates were coming of their second playoff sweep and looked stronger than the Orlando team that made the NBA Final last season. A lot has changed in the last week, however, most of all the Boston Celtics who do not look like the tired, old men they're made out to be. The C's look to close out the Magic Monday night at TD Garden in Game 4.
It's getting easier to remember the Boston Celtics winning the NBA championship two years ago. The Celtics were healthy and hungry then, and they look exactly the same heading into Monday's Game 4 against the Orlando Magic.
Most offshore sports books have installed the Celtics as six-point home favorites on the NBA betting odds board to finish the four-game sweep of Orlando and advance to the NBA Finals. The ‘total' opened at 188 points.
ESPN will televise the contest starting at 8:30 p.m. ET.
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Boston has covered all three games in the series, with each contest going ‘under' the closing total. No team in NBA playoff history has come back from a 0-3 deficit in a best-of-seven series.
If the Magic have any chance of returning to Orlando for Wednesday's Game 5, they'll have to do a better job stopping Paul Pierce, reduce their turnovers and get far more production from key players such as Rashard Lewis, Dwight Howard and Vince Carter.
Oh, yes, there's also the mental factor. The Magic swept Charlotte and Atlanta, covering seven of the eight games, but were intimidated and out-hustled playing at TD Garden this past Saturday night in a 94-71 loss. The Celtics easily covered as 3 ½-point favorites with the combined 165 points dipping well ‘under' the 189 ½-point total.
Lewis, guarded by ace defender Kevin Garnett, had another terrible game with four points on 2-of-8 shooting, four turnovers and five fouls. Howard was held to seven points and seven rebounds by Kendrick Perkins, Rasheed Wallace and Glen Davis. Carter contributed a meaningless 15 points, failing once again to inspire his teammates.
Rajon Rondo continued to out-perform Jameer Nelson, his Orlando point guard counterpart. The Celtics were plus 25 in points when Rondo was on the court, compared to Orlando's minus 15 when Nelson was playing.
The Celtics have held Orlando to an average of 83.6 points in the series. Boston has allowed the opposition to score more than 87 points only once in seven home playoff contests.
The Celtics have accomplished this defensive mastery by impeccable chemistry and teamwork, as well as excellent game-planning by assistant coach Tom Thibedeau. It also helped that Garnett is healthy and rejuvenated by not having to play in back-to-back games.
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The Magic's field goal shooting has gone steadily downhill from 41.6 percent in Game 1 to 39.4 percent in Game 2 to 36.9 percent this past Saturday. Boston also has forced 49 turnovers, while turning the ball over themselves 37 times.
Pierce is having a big series, averaging 22.6 points while making 55 percent of his shots from the field, including nailing 7-of-14 shots from beyond the arc.
Orlando's performance in Game 3 was scary bad. Previously, though, the Magic had won and covered all four of their road playoff matchups. Boston's home win this past Saturday was the first time the host team had covered during the past eight head-to-head meetings.
The Magic still have won five of their last eight games in Boston, including both of their regular-season visits to TD Garden. Orlando's 25-16 away mark was better than Boston's 24-17 home record. However, that was during the regular season.
The Celtics are peaking at just the right time, while the Magic desperately are trying to regain the momentum they had prior to this series.
Rather than showing complacency, the veteran Celtics are smelling blood trying to finish the Magic off as quick as possible in order to rest up for a probable championship series versus the Los Angeles Lakers.