Ten thoughts from a Game 5 that gave every "The NBA is fixed" believer enough fodder to last until 2030, when Dick Bavetta will be 88 years old and working his 66th straight NBA finals.
1. This just in: The Magic are good.
And now we have a series.
There's a reason why they won 59 games in the regular season. And now we are seeing the team that blitzed Charlotte and Atlanta in a double sweep.
Some nights the other team is just better. It happens. And the Orlando Magic were, from soup to nuts, the better team in Game 5. They did what they do when things are good. Making 3-pointers from everywhere (13-of-25) and using the best defensive player in the league to change the offense of the opponent. Nothing to be ashamed about, from a Celtics perspective. Unlike Game 4, I thought they played hard from start to finish. Still a little sloppy, to be sure, and it's hard not to worry about the aging Big Three* shooting a combined 11-of-33 from the field, but this wasn't the mail-in job you might think if you hadn't watched the game and saw the final score in the paper on Thursday morning.
The two biggest reasons the Magic have been the best team in the Eastern Conference over the last two years is Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson. So take a wild stab as to reasons A and B why the Magic have suddenly made this a very live series?
Nelson again controlled the game on Wednesday, hitting 6-of-10 shots (4-of-5 on 3-pointers) on his way to a game-high 24 points. He's getting to the basket, setting up Rashard Lewis (any surprise he's played better since Nelson started to get the groove back?), J.J. Redick, Matt Barnes and Mickael Pietrus for wide-open jumpers.
And Howard is one of maybe three players in the NBA that can take 12 shots in a game and yet dominate the contest. 21 points, 10 rebounds and five blocked shots in Game 5 but it just felt like more, didn't it? He was everywhere.
(And so were his elbows.)
2. As the great American poet and noted Doctor of Impartiality Tommy Heinsohn once said about Ed F. Rush, "The F must stand for fool!"
Just once, you'd like to see an NBA referee own up to a mistake. If Rush had taken a moment to think after calling the second T, realized that he was about to dole out $10,000 worth of punishment for a $20 crime, and just went over the officials table and wiped away the call, he would have had to deal with maybe 20 seconds of heat from the Orlando crowd. Now he's in the middle of the biggest sports story of the day. And P.S., NBA referees aren't exactly polling like Walter Cronkite in the trustworthy department, so a call like that in a game which we all know who the folks that run the league want to win brings out the conspiracy crowd. And sadly the NBA (David Stern front and center on this one) has done nothing to earn the trust of the fans with the way it has handled the growing disgrace that is the current state of NBA officiating. Sure, at least one of the T's will be rescinded on Thursday, but the idea the NBA thinks someone capable of such an awful lapse in judgement is worthy of being a referee in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals is more than a little troubling.
3. And why does Joey Crawford feel the need to give Rondo a T for talking to another ref but won't step in when another ref is making the kind of mistake that could prove to be series-altering? How does that make any sense? If the refs in Game 5 were being graded on a number like QB rating, we'd be looking at about a 14.6. The equivalent of 6-for-28 for 48 yards with no TD passes and four picks.
(Speaking — sort of — about Rondo. I agree that something is just a little off. I know he's not 100 percent physically, but I thought he looked better on Wednesday than in Game 3. Much more aggressive on the offensive end, and it looked like he found something in the third quarter. I think he has a big game on Friday.)
4. Perkins drives me crazy with his whining about every foul called on him. Worst complainer in the league today, and I'm not sure it's close. If he ever pulled a Kermit Washington, it's 50-50 that he'd scream at the ref for calling something on him when it was the other guy who ran into his fist. And it's probably true that if it were Ray Allen or someone else Lady Byngish in that same spot Rush does not hand out the T. But that doesn't excuse what Rush did at all. He has to know the situation. And if he did know the situation and still kicked Perkins out of Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals for basically walking away? That's even more eye-opening and should also end with a suspension. Instead I'm sure he'll be working Game 7 of the NBA finals with Joey and Bennett Salvatore.
5. I'm pretty sure that Ray Allen went about 20 minutes without touching the ball in the second half. Where was he? This happens every once in a while with Allen, and it always shocks me. It doesn't help that Allen A) isn't a guy that will grab you by the throat and demand the ball and B) unlike, say, Pierce, he gets the ball mostly off screens. Not a lot of halfcourt stuff is run just through him. Always seems like he's the second or third option. All I know is that if I'm the Celtics I want one of the two dozen or so best shooters in NBA history to get at least 15 shots in Game 6.
6. If Perkins and Glen Davis are both out on Friday then you are looking at 35 minutes from Rasheed Wallace. If that's the case, the biggest question for Game 6 is this: Will we see the good Rasheed (21 points in Game 5, active on D) or the regular-season Rasheed (who made a return in Game 4)? It's been a media angle a dozen times already in the playoffs, but I'm thinking it will finally be true on Friday: This will be the defining game for Rasheed Wallace as a Celtics player. No matter what happens with Perkins, Wallace is going to be needed in Game 6. He's not a luxury that they hope shows up to play, not anymore. I think Friday's game falls squarely in the "This is why they brought him here" category. He puts up 18-8 in a Celtics clincher on Friday and suddenly he's a steal. Just three years at $19 million? Let's get talking on a extension!
7. You do realize that the Celtics started a fourth quarter of a playoff game with Nate Robinson and Marquis Daniels as the guards, right? And it wasn't a 30-point game. In a night that often leaned toward the bizarre, that managed to stand out.
8. The most consistent player in this series for Orlando has been J.J. Redick. Hasn't had a bad game yet. He and Pierce are the only two players in the series that can make that claim. Redick has become (I can't believe I'm writing this) a 21st century Vinnie Johnson in these five games, coming off the bench to do two things — score and score quickly. He's averaging 12 points per game in just 26 minutes, hitting 56 percent of his 3-point attempts. Are we ready to declare him the winner in the Redick vs. Adam Morrison debate of 2006? He's turned out to be a pretty good value as the 11th overall pick of that draft.
9. When I wrote that Redick has been the most consistent Magic player, I should have prefaced that I only meant among the guys playing well. Vince Carter now is reduced to being the guy on the bench trying way too hard to look happy that things are suddenly going well for his team. I'm guessing Stan Van Gundy will start Vince and give him seven or eight minutes in the first quarter Friday to see if it's the game that he finally looks like the old Vince Carter. But if he does nothing it'll be a lot of Redick and Barnes and guys like Brandon Bass.
10. I wrote after Game 4 that any talk of an all-time collapse can't really be given any weight until the Magic have a fourth-quarter lead in Game 6. And I'm standing by that. But it's safe to say that for the first time in the series the pressure is on the Celtics in Game 6.
But I think the Perkins stuff helps the Celtics over the next two days. First of all, it's going to get rescinded, so he'll be on the court. And the story should take some heat away from the "Is another Boston team about to blow a 3-0 lead?" angle. Plus this: I think it brings "Us against the world" back into play for Doc. Always a solid tool to have in the bag.
I fully expect an angry and focused Celtics team in Game 6. The Magic will fight (they can smell history) but I think they fall just short. There's a reason why 3-0 has never been overcome in NBA history. Too big a hole, and this is a Celtics team that has enough guys that know how to close. All that is true for Game 6. But make no mistake — in reality this is Game 7 for the Celtics. They lose Friday and I think they will lose on Sunday in Orlando. But I don't think the series gets back to Amway Arena.
Celtics 96, Magic 92.