The C's are not the team they need to be, and the Magic are not as good as they were last season.
We'll start off with the Celtics. I was actually pretty happy with their effort level. While the C's have looked unengaged (to say the least) at times this season, they played a large portion of this game with playoff-like intensity. They were fighting for loose balls, scratching and clawing for rebounds, and acting like they really wanted to win this thing.
Unfortunately, their offense was very close to atrocious. Far too often, the Celtics resorted to one-on-one play. When Boston is at its best (really, when any team is at its best), the ball is moving from side to side, players are moving without the ball, and everyone is unselfish. Tonight, it was throw it to Paul Pierce and get out of his way, or get it to Ray and let him create something, or wait until the shot clock is down and fire up an ill-advised stepback jumper. The C's showed no cohesiveness, and no willingness to let the offense find them open shots. They were forcing tough drives to the hoop and playing far too much isolation basketball.
Still, they played far less isolation basketball than Orlando. Remember Orlando last season? They played beautiful basketball, spacing the floor and using Hedo Turkoglu as the facilitator getting the ball to all their perimeter options. Now, Vince Carter is the new facilitator, and we'll just say he didn't do a lot of "facilitating." Throughout the whole game, Carter was content to fire bad shots, fadeaways with a man in his face, and ended up taking 29 shots to score 26 points. The Magic's spacing is still there, but the ball movement is no longer anywhere near the level it was last year.
In the fourth quarter, the offense was "Get the ball to Vince and get the hell out of his way." They still call him "Vinsanity", but now it's for his insane shot selection, rather than his athleticism. He hit some tough shots, but missed a whole lot more. If the Celtics weren't ice-cold, they would have come away with the win, and most of the blame would have fallen squarely on the shoulders of Vince Carter. Shoulders that are likely sore from chucking so many shots.
Vince had a great stat line, at first glance at least, with 26 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists, but it's clear his affect on the rest of the team is negative. You could almost see Rashard Lewis frowning as he watched Vince fling up 27-foot jumpers while Lewis stood on the other side of the court with no hopes of ever touching the basketball. The Magic came away with the win, but they have a long ways to go to becoming a title contender.
And so do the Celtics. Their offensive execution needs to get a lot better, and selfless team basketball needs to make a quick return to Beantown. I liked the fight and tenacity Boston showed, but I didn't like their execution.
Not one bit.
Here's a running diary of my thoughts during the game, while it was happening.
"JWilliams tells me he played last year on a rec team w/ Tim + Penny Hardaway + Shaun Livingston. Imagine that coming at you, rec leaguers."
Now, I've played in some rec leagues in my life, and most of them are with old, balding guys with beer bellies and huge knee braces. I know Williams, Penny, and Livingston all have the knee braces, but they don't exactly fit the mold of rec leaguers that I'm used to.