Celtics Head to Orlando to Battle Red-Hot Magic in Conference Finals Opener

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Celtics Head to Orlando to Battle Red-Hot Magic in Conference Finals Opener No one thinks the Celtics can win this thing, do they? In fact, few even saw them making it this far.

Doc Rivers‘ guys have knocked off the mighty Cleveland Cavaliers and advanced to the Eastern Conference finals, but there’s another formidable foe waiting for them there. Game 1 tips off Sunday between the Celtics and the Orlando Magic, the hottest team in the playoffs with back-to-back sweeps in their rear-view mirror.

The C’s have already gotten the best of Dwyane Wade and the Heat and LeBron James and the Cavs. Next up is a Magic team led by the dominating big man Dwight Howard. Here goes nothing.

When and Where

Celtics at Magic
Sunday, May 16, 3:30 p.m. (ABC)
Amway Arena, Orlando, Fla.

Head to Head

The Celtics were 1-3 this season against the Magic, but the one win was a pivotal one. The C’s won 86-77 in Orlando on Christmas Day, a huge statement win without the injured Paul Pierce. That win improved Boston’s single-season record to 23-5, at the time the best mark in all the land. After Christmas, though, the C’s went 27-27 the rest of the way. Orlando was the turning point of the Celtics’ season, and it was a turn for the worst. Now they get a chance to turn things in the opposite direction.

Key Matchup

Rajon Rondo vs. Jameer Nelson
If you’ve watched the Celtics’ first 11 games in this postseason, you know that point guard play has been the key. Rondo is the lifeblood of this Celtics team — he uses his brilliant court vision, his speed and his athleticism to make things happen. But in Jameer Nelson, Rondo is up against a similarly smart, similarly athletic opposing point guard. Between the two, it’s going to be a war of attrition. Which one can outrun the other? Which one can wear the other out? Which one prevails?

Starting Lineups

Celtics
Point guard: Rajon Rondo
Shooting guard: Ray Allen
Small forward: Paul Pierce
Power forward: Kevin Garnett
Center: Kendrick Perkins

Magic
Point guard: Jameer Nelson
Shooting guard: Vince Carter
Small forward: Matt Barnes
Power forward: Rashard Lewis
Center: Dwight Howard

Stat Sheet

Celtics

  • Rajon Rondo had 21 points and 12 assists in Game 6 against the Cavaliers on Thursday. It was his sixth double-double of the playoffs.
  • Ray Allen has attempted 73 3-point field goals this postseason, most in the NBA.
  • Rasheed Wallace has career averages of 14.7 points, 7.2 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game against the Magic.

Magic

  • Dwight Howard is shooting 67.8 percent from the field in these playoffs.
  • Mickael Pietrus has made 21 of 41 3-point attempts.
  • Vince Carter has career averages of 22.2 points, 4.9 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game against the Celtics.

Black and Blue

Celtics

  • Kendrick Perkins missed part of Saturday’s practice with a sore knee, but he expects to start Sunday in Game 1.

Magic

  • Matt Barnes missed practice Saturday because of back spasms but also expects to start in Game 1.
  • Rashard Lewis and Mickael Pietrus have both been slowed in these playoffs by sprained left ankles. Both are healthy now.

Outlook

The challenge for the Celtics is two-fold — stop Dwight Howard down low, and stop the Magic’s many shooters on the perimeter. It’s no easy task, but the Celtics are up to it. This is a team that’s made a name for itself in the playoffs the last three years with its defense, and they’ll get a chance to prove it in this series. The C’s need a stalwart defensive effort from everyone on the floor. If they get it, a return trip to the NBA Finals could be in their future. It all starts with Game 1. Here’s the Celtics’ chance to start off on the right foot.

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