The question before Rajon Rondo about an hour before Game 2 tipped was: Who’s the quickest player in the league? “Beside myself?” Rondo asked, although it was more of a clarifying statement than query.
Rondo probably is the fastest player in the league, but when Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy looked out at the court and saw his super-sized lineup trying to stay with not only Rondo, but also Eddie House and Ray Allen, he did not like what he saw.
“What happened today,” Van Gundy said, “is that the game sped up so much and literally, we couldn‘t keep up.”
What happened Wednesday night at the Garden was much more than the Celtics evening up their series with the Magic at a game apiece. What happened was a fundamental shift in how it’s going to be played and right now the Magic don’t have an answer for it. Van Gundy was worried about the Celtics speed Monday night when their frantic comeback came up short, and for good reason as it turns out.
Orlando is not a fast-break team. They live on throwing it into Dwight Howard on the post and the inevitable 3-point barrage when teams resort to double-teaming him. The Celtics don’t have to do that; not with Kendrick Perkins playing him straight-up. So the Magic have to rely on execution in the half-court and solid defense on the other end, but you can’t defend what you can’t catch.
“We played all the perimeter guys we have,” Van Gundy said. “It’s not like I’m hiding a speedster over there on the bench.”
But the Celtics were. Just under two minutes into the game, Doc Rivers called on Brian Scalabrine to replace Big Baby Davis, and while not exactly Usain Bolt, Scalabrine’s entry signaled that the Celtics were about to get smaller and quicker. Then when Paul Pierce picked up his second foul later in the quarter, Rivers called on Stephon Marbury instead of sliding Scal over to the small forward spot.
“That’s how we were going to go with our substitutions,” Rivers said. “Steph and Rondo and Ray, and Rondo, Eddie and Ray. Because we just thought the movement, especially with Eddie and Ray being able to come off picks and then stretch the floor, it would also open the floor for Rondo.”
Rondo was spectacular, recording a triple-double by the end of the third quarter, while Allen and House shot a combined 18-for-32 and the Celtics recorded assists on 34 of their 41 field goals.
“I would like to think we could do a better job defending them off screens,” Van Gundy said. “But some of those shots -- with Eddie House running -- I don’t know that we’re going to stop all those.”
The Celtics didn’t really want to talk about the small lineup, an indication that they know they have a trump card in their back pocket. How they use it could well determine how this series plays out.
1. ED-DIE, ED-DIE, ED-DIE
Here’s the amazing thing about Eddie House’s 31-point barrage: He could have scored more. While he only took four 3-pointers all night (and made them all too), he also knocked down five jumpers that were at least 20 feet out.
“I’ve seen some great shooting shows in my life,” Van Gundy said. “But that was incredible.”
House will always own a special place in Celtics lore for the way he patiently waited for his chance last season, and then delivered when he was called upon to replace an ineffective Sam Cassell. It was in Game 7 of the Cavs series when House ran the length of the court to chase down a loose ball and knocked it off Wally Szczerbiak that the “Ed-die! Ed-die!” chant was born.
The Garden was in full throat for House during his onslaught Wednesday night and he fed off the energy. So much that he wound up on the receiving end of a slap to the back of the head by Orlando’s Rafer Alston. On the replay, it appeared that House swung an elbow before Alston retaliated, but Alston will have to sweat out the next 24 hours to see if he gets suspended.
“Eddie made the shot,” Alston said. “I’m standing out of bounds letting him run by, he runs by, shoots an elbow at me. It was just a natural reaction. I have no hard feelings for Eddie. I have a lot of respect for him.”
House’s reaction? “I mean, all I did was hit a shot and start running the other way and get hit upside the head. Guess he was tired of getting hit upside the head.”
Van Gundy worked with House while the two were with the Heat. He knows him well enough to know that House is an emotional player who feeds off his own energy when he gets things going. “He just gets excited, and he’s going to let you know (that he’s) kicking your butt and everything else,” he said. “There’s a lot of guys like that in this league. The guy had a great game today.”
2. SPEAKING OF CHANTS...
There was a lot of talk that Brian Scalabrine should get the start ahead of Big Baby Davis for Game 2. After all, Rashard Lewis has shredded the Celtics defense in the first quarter of Game 1 and Scal successfully defended him in the second half, helping hold him to just four points.
Scal didn’t start Wednesday, but he as well have, as he checked in after just two minutes and played 34 minutes. It was a typical Scalabrine game. He made some open shots, grabbed a few rebounds, spaced the floor when he didn’t have the ball and played solid individual and team defense, while keeping Lewis in check (17 points on 6-for-15 shooting.)
“Scalabrine and Eddie House changed the game,” Van Gundy said.
All night long Scalabrine and Davis played Lewis tight. They had a hand in his face in all night and an arm in his chest when he didn’t have the ball.
“The intensity and the physicality of our defense early on set the tone,” Rivers said. “That’s the only way we can play these guys. If we don’t, they’re too good. They shoot the ball too well, they move the ball too well. And we have to get up their faces as much as we can.”
Orlando wound up making 8-of-19 shots from 3-point range, which was a little deceptive because J.J. Redick was 4-for-6, but outside of Dick Vitale’s favorite player, the Magic got precious few open looks and that had a lot to do with Scalabrine’s defense.
3. KENDRICK PERKINS IS MAKING HIS REP
Whose line would you rather have?
Center 1: 5-for-13, 12 points, 12 rebounds, no blocks, five turnovers.
Center 2: 7-for-10, 16 points, nine rebounds, two blocks, two turnovers.
You’d take Center 2 of course, who was Kendrick Perkins. Center 1 felt so bad about the loss that he felt the need to apologize to his coach and teammates for his performance.
“It starts with me on both ends,” Dwight Howard said. “So I told my coach and my team that it was a tough loss, but I have to give a better effort, and it starts with me and I didn’t bring it tonight.”
With Perkins, the Celtics have a huge advantage against the Magic in that he is physically strong enough to play Howard straight-up. He won’t always win that individual battle, but the Celtics don’t have to help and thus leave Orlando’s shooters wide open behind the arc.
It wasn’t just Perkins. Big Baby Davis was also physical with Howard, helping keep him off the offensive glass, but Perkins’ reputation as a low-post defender is only growing in these playoffs as he does his work without Kevin Garnett by his side.
Perkins did not make either the First or Second All-Defensive teams, which were announced by the NBA earlier in the day. The coaches vote on that particular honor and as these things tend to be, it’s mostly based on reputation. Perkins time will come because he is making his name in these playoffs, and you can count on it being a part of the All-Defensive team discussion next year.
4. TICK, TICK, TICK
Speaking of reputations, the Magic’s rep as a team that unravels under pressure took another hit Wednesday, only this time it didn’t have anything to do with blowing a late lead.
It will be very interesting to see how the NBA rules on the Alston slap. The refs obviously didn’t see the altercation, only the aftermath, and they assessed double technical fouls on House and Alston after the two were jawing at each other. During a break in the action, the crew of Bennett Salvatore, Eddie F. Rush and Tom Washington reviewed the play and didn’t see fit to slap a harsher penalty on Alston.
For his part, Van Gundy took Alston out for the rest of the game. “Yeah, I’m concerned,” Alston said. “I can’t do much about it now. You know, the NBA is cool. They’ll look at the play in its entirety and they’ll see that he threw the elbow first at my stomach.”
Maybe, but House didn’t make contact, while Alston clearly slapped House in the back of the head.
But that wasn’t all. Redick was thrown out after he picked up his sixth foul. He walked up to Salvatore, whispered something in his ear, and then got the gate, which seemed like an odd demonstration for a player who is getting his first taste as a contributor in meaningful competition.
“Well, J.J. was gone anyway,” Van Gundy said. “It doesn’t really mater to me if he watches it from the bench or the locker room. But yes, the answer to your question is yes. That’s the first time in the playoffs that we got our butts kicked … and we did not handle it well.”
5. WHEN THINGS GO WELL
Add this to the final thing that went right for the Celtics. Not only did they even the series and fundamentally change the way it’s going to be played, they also got major rest for Paul Pierce, who played just 15 minutes after he spent the night in foul trouble.
“In a funny way, you think you get a huge advantage with Paul Pierce being in foul trouble, and normally you would,” Van Gundy said. “Paul Pierce is a great, great player and still if you give me my choice on Friday and Sunday and I can play with Paul Pierce not playing I’ll take it.”
The Celtics would rather they didn’t, but they will certainly take the benefits. “I’m hoping Paul will have the game Ray had when he went back to Chicago after he sat the whole game with foul trouble,” Rivers said. “So, that would be terrific.”
On a night when everything went right, even losing their star player couldn’t slow down the Celtics. They were just too fast.