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All season long, Rajon Rondo has been more than happy to pass the ball to the Boston Celtics’ many strong shooters. Against the Orlando Magic on Sunday at home, he was a strong Celtics shooter. Rondo’s 26 points complimented a Celtics defense that held the Magic to just 34.4 percent shooting, including 3-24 shooting from three-point range, and the Celtics won, 91-80.
Rondo’s 26 points were a new season-high, his most since scoring 29 points against the Cleveland Cavaliers in last May’s Eastern Conference Semi-Finals. The Celtics are still undefeated at home against the Eastern Conference this season.
The Magic came into this game very familiar with Rondo’s passing acumen, and their defense played accordingly. The Orlando defenders not guarding Rondo played very tight to their men, rarely allowing a Celtic to get open for a Rondo pass. Whoever defended Rondo then usually gave him several feet of free space, hoping to cut off bounce passes into the lane. Since he couldn’t pass into the lane, Rondo drove through it, sinking six layups through the game, including two on consecutive possessions in the second quarter. He also got himself to the line five times, making seven of nine free throws.
Rondo was not the only Celtic getting to the line, as Boston attacked the paint far more aggressively. Although they tied Orlando with 38 points in the paint, the Celtics shot 34 (making 28) free throws to the Magic’s 16 (making 13). Paul Pierce was the best at the line, sinking 10 of 12 free throws as part of his 18-point performance. As Rondo became the go-to scorer, Pierce became the team’s facilitator, finishing the game with a scoring differential of plus-20.
When Rondo was not scoring on layups, he was sinking jump-shots. Midway through the third quarter, Rondo hit a 20-footer as the shot clock expired to push Boston’s lead to 61-49. Two minutes later, he hit his ninth three-pointer of the season from 24 feet away to make it 68-55 Celtics.
When he wasn’t scoring, Rondo was still more than capable of running the offense, dishing out seven assists. The Celtics won the overall assists battle, 21-13.
Although Rondo and Pierce were the Celtics’ biggest scorers, three other Celtics also scored in double figures. Kevin Garnett scored 16 points and collected nine rebounds, good for a plus-17 differential, second only to Pierce.
Ray Allen scored 11 points, including two key three-pointers. His first tied the game for the first time at 34 late in the second quarter. His second capped a 7-0 Boston run to open the second half, stretching a three-point Boston lead at halftime to 10. The Celtics never looked back after that. Allen is now just four treys away from breaking Reggie Miller’s all-time record.
Glen Davis scored 11 points, grabbed six rebounds and stole two coming off the bench. Davis banged his head on the court after drawing a charge on Orlando point guard Jameer Nelson in the first quarter, but later returned to the game.
The game began with Dwight Howard abusing Kendrick Perkins from the post and underneath the basket. Howard made four of his first five shots, and Perkins looked like he could do nothing with the faster, stronger, higher-jumping Howard. But Perkins got more physical with Howard as the game went on, fouling him hard on shots and boxing out for rebounds (13 total, tied with Howard for most in the game). Although Howard still scored 22 points, the defense definitely took its toll on him, both physically and mentally.
In the second quarter, a hard Perkins foul caused Howard to lash out and elbow Perkins in the chest, resulting in a technical.
In the second half, Howard did not score a field-goal until there was 1:10 left in the fourth quarter and the game was out of reach. He had just six second-half points, four on free-throws.
Shutting down Howard forced the Magic to settle for mid-range jumpers and three-point shots. This led to just 34.4 overall shooting, and an average of 31.9 percent shooting through the final three quarters. The Magic sank just three three-pointers, two in the first quarter.
The Celtics defense stole the ball seven times and blocked four shots. They also out-rebounded the Magic on defense, 37-30. Every time an Orlando player went up for a jump-shot, a swarm of Celtics hovered around the basket for the rebound. This didn’t stop the Magic from grabbing 16 offensive rebounds, but it made it impossible for Orlando to make a dent in the Celtics’ large second-half lead.
With a minute gone in the second quarter, Marquis Daniels bent his neck back while trying to drive past reserve point guard Gilbert Arenas and went to the floor. He lay there for over five minutes before being loaded onto a stretcher and taken away in an ambulance.
In his post-game press conference, Doc Rivers said that Daniels suffered a bruised spine. He will be out at least a month, but he has full motion in his extremities.