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Here’s the facts from Sunday afternoon’s Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals: Jameer Nelson outplayed Rajon Rondo. Kevin Garnett, whose absence in last year’s Magic-Celtics was likely the difference in the series, played poorly on Sunday, shooting 4-14. Oh…and most important, the Celtics somehow held on after a late rally by the Magic to take Game 1, winning 92-88.
The Celtics built two separate 20-point leads in the second half, but later their 17-point fourth quarter lead dwindle to as little as two points. Boston, who has now won four straight postseason games (including 2-0 on the road), persevered, and was able to hold off the furious rally to steal home-court advantage.
Without strong games from Rondo or Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen led the way for the boys in green. Ray Allen, who finished with a game-high 25 points, was a perfect 8-for-8 from the free throw line, including two clutch free throws late. Ray’s clutch points followed an unbelievable play from Jameer Nelson, who burned him on a sneaky layup after a missed Vince Carter free throw.
Paul Pierce, meanwhile, easily had his best game of the playoffs (both offensively and defensively). The captain shot 6-for-8 from the field and 8-for-10 from the free throw line (he had two clutch free throws late in the game himself), finishing with 22 points and five assists. He also did a fine job on the boards, grabbing nine rebounds in addition to two steals and and a block.
Dwight Howard played a little better than his final stat line suggested, but he clearly was off of his game, and he can thank Kendrick Perkins and Rasheed Wallace for that. Howard finished with 13 points on just 3-10 shooting (he was 7-12 from the FT line) with 12 boards and seven turnovers.
Perk does a great job making Howard uncomfortable in the paint, forcing him to take awkward shots on his weak side. He also fouled the big fella if he seemed to be in good position, which for the most part was effective.
Wallace had one of his best games as a Celtic off the bench, pitching in 13 points (2-5 from long distance), two rebounds, and a blocked shot. ‘Sheed also did a nice job on Howard, and late in the game it was clear he was under Howard’s skin. Both players took double-technicals as it got a little testy under the basket, and later on, ‘Sheed hard-fouled Howard when he made a move to the basket.
If Perk and ‘Sheed can hold their own on Howard, the Celtics have a terrific chance to win the series.
This is a match-up to keep an eye on. Rarely does Rondo ever get so outplayed, but on Sunday afternoon, Nelson was clearly the better player. The Magic PG scored 20 points on 8-of-18 shooting (2-7 from long distance) and also grabbed nine rebounds.
Rondo, by contrast, had probably his worst game of the playoffs, finishing with eight points, four rebounds, and eight assists. He only turned it over three times, but he seemed apprehensive to attack the basket with Howard roaming the paint.
Rondo will probably be even more motivated to out-play Nelson in Game 2. We’ll see.
The Celtics looked really good in Game 1, and as long as they can control Dwight Howard, and do a better job of limiting Vince Carter (23 points, 9-18 shooting), they should be able to stay competitive in Game 2.