x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Orlando stumped for answers

Celtics turn up defensive pressure and after cruising through the first two rounds of the play-offs, Magic struggle against Boston.

Dwight Howard, right, and Kendrick Perkins battle for a rebound in Game 1.
Dwight Howard, right, and Kendrick Perkins battle for a rebound in Game 1.

ORLANDO // The Orlando Magic, who had all the answers through the first two rounds of the playoffs, are suddenly looking for clues against the Boston Celtics. The Celtics turned up the defensive pressure, put the squeeze on Dwight Howard and took Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals 92-88 on Sunday night.

The teams meet again in Game 2 tonight in Orlando, and will then take a three day-day break before resuming the series on Saturday in Boston. Displaying the same intensity that earned them the NBA title in 2008, the Celtics frustrated the Magic early and survived some nervous moments late inflict the first defeat in the post-season on the Magic. Orlando trailed for the entire game and were stymied as the Celtics sent a barrage of big men at Howard, delivering hard fouls and forcing him into hard shots.

"When I get into a wrestling match with them I think it plays to their advantage," said Howard, who was held to 13 points on 3-for-10 shooting while committing seven turnovers. "Now I have to go back and regroup and look at film on better ways to get into a position to score." Ray Allen scored a game-high 25 points and made two free throws with six seconds left to preserve the win after Boston's 20-point lead in the second half was cut to just two in the final seconds.

The Celtics said even though they struggled at times during the regular season, they had no doubt about their ability to progress in the play-offs. They reached the conference finals by knocking off the top-seeded Cleveland Cavaliers in six games. "As a veteran team everyone was waiting for the play-offs and when we got here we hit the ground running," Allen said. "They came out ready to play," said Vince Carter, who led Orlando with 23 points. "They jumped on us early, offensively and defensively. We fought like heck to get back in the game.

"Unfortunately, when you're down that many points with about nine minutes to go, and with them defending like they did, it's going to be tough." Stan van Gundy, the Magic coach, said his team was not rusty after having six days off following its sweep of Atlanta. Orlando outscored the Hawks by a combined 101 points, the largest margin of victory for a four-game sweep in NBA history. "We got outplayed today. That's it," Van Gundy said. "We have to find better ways offensively to attack their defence.

"We have to quit turning the ball over and we have to make some defensive adjustments." * Agencies