The “rest versus rust” argument is a tiresome one, but the Magic certainly looked rusty in Game One. That said, the difference between the defenses of the Hawks and the Celtics may have been a bigger factor in Game One than the Magic’s lengthy time off.
Either way, it took the Magic a while to start rolling, just look at their points by quarter: 14-18-26-30.
The Magic finally showed the firepower necessary to regain control of the series, but they will need to be firing on all cylinders to knock off a Celtics team that is deeper and better than almost anyone thought. (Sheed Sighting!)
The Magic fans don’t have to panic… yet. But it has to be disconcerting that the Celtics dominated for three quarters without really playing well themselves (10 first half turnovers).
Expect Van Gundy to make some key moves before Game 2, as he is one of the best in the business at preparing his team to win.
We can be sure he’ll have others, but here are 5 adjustments (besides resuscitating Rashard Lewis) that Van Gundy MUST make if the Magic are to get back to the NBA Finals
1. Bench Barnes, promote Redick
Barnes isn’t healthy and it was going to take his best effort to chase Ray Allen around screens. Redick did excellent work on Allen in last year’s playoffs because he has fantastic conditioning and is used to running around off screens on offense.
Allen killed the Magic in Game One, turning in a typically understated and devastating performance. His 25 efficient points came from all over, but Barnes foolishly lost him a few times in the half court.
The feisty UCLA product Barnes is an important part of Orlando’s squad because of his attitude as much as anything. He brings an edge that Van Gundy loves at the start of games.
Redick replaces that better than anyone. He’s developed a toughness born of the doubters and adversity he’s faced since entering the league.
You had to love the two charges he took in Game One, including one in which Big Baby Davis ran through him like he runs through a buffet line.
Redick also makes excellent decisions on offense and is a more consistent shooter than Barnes. Barnes was the Magic player the Celtics chose to leave open in the first quarter, and Redick will knock down a high percentage of those open shots.
Although he missed a huge three in the last minute, Redick attacked fearlessly, hustled all over the court and looked more ready to play than everyone besides Nelson and Carter.
2. Shoot when you’re open!
The Magic “make the extra pass” as well as anyone in the NBA, and the Celtics were well prepared for this. The C’s did a great job of running the Magic off of the three point line and rotating to shooters instead of defending against the drive.
Instead of pulling the trigger, Orlando over-passed and ended up refusing good looks in hopes of getting great ones. In the second half, the Magic were more decisive on the perimeter and it helped them get back in the game.
Jameer Nelson and Jason Williams were two great examples of the aggression needed. Nelson sparked the Magic offense in the second half by looking to shoot off of the screen and roll instead of creating for others. Williams passed up a couple wide open looks in the first half but confidently stepped into and knocked down a three in the fourth.
The Celtics don’t give up two good shots in one possession, so the Magic players need to smoke ‘em when the got ‘em.
3. Get Howard going in transition
Magic fans have to be frustrated by D-12’s lack of offensive development and general lack of maturity. Howard made bad decisions, coughed the ball up and failed to earn even one three point play despite many opportunities. Often,
Howard looked terrible and soft when went one on one with Perkins, Wallace and even 6-7 Big Baby Davis.
But getting Howard going in transition isn’t as simple as “run harder, dunk often.” The Celtics don’t send their big men to the offensive glass, so when Howard sprints the floor he needs to establish very deep position against the unsettled Celtics D. He might beat his man down court a few times, but simply aggressively running the floor will also help open up the Magic’s patented transition threes and may give Howard better scoring opportunities.
In the half court, he needs to scrap his spin move and be more decisive. When he makes a strong move, especially to his right, and doesn’t try to counter, he will draw more fouls (Perkins is shoving him every time) and might even establish something resembling a rhythm offensively.
4. Revolve the offense around Vince Carter’s post ups
Ladies and Gentlemen, Vince Carter is on a mission!
Vince brought it for the whole 48, was the best player on the court for much of the game and looked determined to shake the “doesn’t show up when it counts” rep.
Feed the beast.
Pierce had trouble getting going offensively against Cleveland in part because of the foul trouble and general attrition that comes with guarding LeBron James. Although Carter isn’t as physically punishing as Lebron, Vince still puts plenty of pressure on Pierce. In Game One, he showed the ability to score on Pierce by shooting over him and routinely cruised past him from the post.
Pierce is going to be a tough match-up for the Magic defense no matter what, so it’s really important to make him work on defense and try to keep him off the court or at least wear him down.
5. Learn from Cleveland’s mistakes: scrap the “big line-up”
Against Boston in Round Two, Cleveland fell into the trap of trying to match Boston’s considerable size. Playing Howard and Gortat at the same time is a similarly seductive option for the Magic because it ensures domination under the boards and gives the Magic their best chance to defend the Celtics’ front line. However, the Magic were able to get out of their offensive rut by going small with Carter at the three and Nelson creating offensively.
Van Gundy’s goal shouldn’t be matching the Celtics, but forcing Boston to adjust to the Magic. The Celtics don’t really rebound and they want to play a game of execution, so a big lineup doesn’t really disrupt their game-plan.
Going small does, because Pierce can’t guard Carter and the floor opens up a bit more. If they want to win this series, the Magic need to get the Celtics out of their defensive comfort zone. They simply can’t do this without a small, quick line up.