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Celtics Nip Magic to Build 2-0 Series Lead

Vince Carter's missed free-throws late in Game 2 could become the defining moment of Eastern Conference Finals for Orlando. (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)

For the second time in three nights, the Boston Celtics won a hotly contested game over the Orlando Magic at Amway Arena. Strong games from Rajon Rondo, who scored 25 points, and Paul Pierce, who finished with 28, allowed the C’s to nip the Magic  95-92, and take a commanding 2-0 Eastern Conference Finals series lead.

It was another gut-wrenching defeat for the Magic, who will now face a daunting task in Boston over the next week. With his team trailing 95-92, Vince Carter, acquired from the New Jersey Nets last offseason, missed two free throws with 31.9 seconds remaining, leaving Magic fans standing in disbelief. Jameer Nelson’s buzzer-beating three point attempt fell just short, and the second episode in what the Magic now hope will be more than a four part mini-series, came to an abrupt end in Orlando.

“I don’t take losses well,” said Carter. “Especially when you’re on a team like this. They bring me in to make plays and deliver in crunch time. For me to step up there and miss two free throws, regardless, this doesn’t sit well with me.”

Dwight Howard’s 30-point Effort Wasted

The Magic really have to be kicking themselves for wasting an impressive 30-point game from superstar center Dwight Howard. Howard surpassed his Game 1 point total in the first half on Tuesday night, and helped jump-start a 13-4 Orlando run midway through the fourth quarter, cutting the Boston lead to 85-83.  Normally a notoriously poor free throw shooter, he made 12/17 from the stripe (70%), and was 9/13 from the field (69%).

However, Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy has to be concerned with Howard’s eight rebounds. That’s alarmingly low for someone who is currently averaging 13.2 boards per game this postseason. If Howard continues struggling to control the paint, Orlando could be swept by Boston in the Eastern Conference Finals, after flying through the first two rounds unscathed.

Celtics Maintain Consistently Dominant Defense

Coming into Game 2, the Celtics held their previous playoff opponents to an average of 91.5 points per game, and they held the Magic to 92 on Tuesday night, after limiting them to 88 points in Game 1. They also held the home team to just 39 percent shooting from the field, after holding them to 41 percent on Sunday.

It’s still shocking to see how well Kendrick Perkins and Rasheed Wallace are able to guard Dwight Howard. By staying tight to Howard, the C’s big men have been able to limit his movement, and force him into his terrible mid-range game. Boston can also put Glen Davis on Howard if Wallace or Perk get into foul trouble. Doc Rivers is perfectly fine with Howard going to the line, as long as he continues missing shots. He hasn’t been horrible from the line, but hasn’t exactly lit it up either. His five missed free throws could have been the difference for the Magic in Game 1, and his five missed free throws could have been the difference in Tuesday night’s game as well.

Magic Still Showing Signs of Rust

Is it possible that Orlando had too much rest coming into their series with Boston? While the Celtics were duking it out with LeBron and the Cleveland Cavaliers in their Eastern Conference Semi-Finals Series, the Magic were sitting at home, waiting to see which team would advance. They didn’t play a game for six days, nearly an entire week, after dispatching the free-falling Atlanta Hawks.

The Celtics, a veteran team getting hot at the right time, has had the luxury of playing a consistent schedule with both of its first two playoff series lasting five and six games respectively. Ironically enough, Orlando’s sweeping of its first two playoff opponents could end up backfiring on them. Now, suddenly down 2-0, they’ll have to find their shooting touch in a must-win Game 3 in Boston on Saturday.

Paul Pierce Not Missing LeBron James One Bit

Rest assured Paul Pierce isn’t missing being defended by LeBron James. Pierce averaged 13.5 points per game versus LeBron and the Cavs in the Conference Semis. He’s currently averaging 25.0 points per game against Orlando. His field goal percentage is up to 58.3 from 34.5, and his three point percentage is up to 50.0 from 30.8. Thus far he’s had his way with both Vince Carter and Matt Barnes through two games of this series.

After a strong performance in Game 1, he lit it up again in Game 2, scoring the Celtics’ first nine points, and 22 points total in the first half. He also collected five rebounds and dished out five assists to go along with his team-high 28 points.

Have The Celtics Come Full Circle?

Certainly the job won’t be finished until an 18th banner is hanging from the rafters of the TD Garden, but the Celtics are looking an awful lot like the team that won a championship in 2008. It makes sense. They’ve got the same nucleus, a few different faces coming off the bench, and they’re healthy again.

“I think we are becoming the team that started the season,” Doc Rivers said. “The team that started the season was pretty good.”

The Eastern Conference Finals continue in Boston with Game 3 on Saturday at 8:30 PM. It will be a must-win game for the reeling defending Conference Champions, but Celtics captain Paul Pierce knows better than anyone not to take any of these games for granted.

“Our fans won’t let us relax,” Pierce said. “We’re going to try and close it out in four games.”

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