Magic Crush Celts

February 10, 1999

 Magic Crush Celts

ORLANDO, Fla. - You have heard that the Celtics need a big guy. You have heard that they are the shorties of the NBA, in need of a 7-footer who is a genuine rebounding romantic. You may have even heard someone say the Celtics are one big man away from being a very good team. So when the Celtics played their first road game of the season last night at Orlando Arena, the people who caused them the most problems in their 107-90 loss to the Magic were . . . little guys?

Well, at least "little" by NBA standards. Ike Austin and Horace Grant, men who could get their clothes from Big & Tall stores, did not hurt the Celtics. In fact, 6-foot-1-inch Kenny Anderson had more rebounds than the 6-10 Austin. So that wasn't the problem. Penny Hardaway, Nick Anderson, and Darrell Armstrong were the problems. The Celtics should be fortunate they weren't playing three-on-three last night. In that case, the final score might have been worse. Hardaway, 6-7, had 28 points, 8 rebounds, and 6 assists. Anderson, 6-5, a man many said was washed up last season, had 26 points and five rebounds.

Armstrong, a 5-11 guard who used to make $250 a week working for a yarn company, had 17 points and eight assists. Add all their numbers up and you have 71 points, 15 rebounds, and 16 assists. If you are an objective fan, you might say that those are staggering numbers. If you are a Magic fan, you might say what coach Chuck Daly said so succinctly: "I thought we played very well. That is the best I've seen Penny play in two years." And if you are a Celtics fan, you know those are numbers of defeat. Rick Pitino is a Celtics fan who also happens to be their coach. He saw his team give up 62 points in the first half and allow 56 percent shooting.

He saw his team fall behind by as many as 17 points in the first half, miraculously close to 1 (71-70) midway through the third quarter and then fall behind by 19 again. As much as he would love to have a dominant center on his side, he knows size wasn't his team's only problem. "I think you can see they enjoy passing the ball," he said of the Magic. "They enjoy making the extra pass. When you watch Miami or Orlando, you always see the second extra pass or the third extra pass. And the veterans enjoy that because that is the way the game is played." It was obvious that the Magic wanted to play the game with a fundamental flair. They began with defense. First the Celtics couldn't score while the Magic did. That led to a 12-point Orlando lead in the first quarter. Then the Celtics finally were able to score, but couldn't stop the Magic.

That led to a 13-point halftime lead. In the third quarter, the Celtics scored a little and defended a little while the Magic did both better. Score after three: 86-74. "We need to watch some film of those guys," Dana Barros said after the game. Pitino will definitely have the film and video running before tonight's game at Miami Arena. On it, the Magic will be shown going to the basket expertly. But the Celtics will also be shown playing poor defense. "I think it was a combination of both," Pitino said. The guard explosion probably had fans in Boston longing for the injured Ron Mercer, who sat on the bench watching in a nifty black suit. While the Celtics could have used the points Mercer would bring, they would have needed him to play like a first-team All-Defensive guard. That's because Hardaway drove to the basket fearlessly. Sometimes he would pass. Often, he would rise to the hoop and dare someone to challenge him. He was challenged at times, but the challenges were often fouls. He finished with 14 free throw attempts. "That's what has been on my mind: Get to the free throw line and get guys in foul trouble," Hardaway said.

 The Celtic who got himself into the most foul trouble also happened to be playing guard last night. Rookie Paul Pierce fouled out in 32 frustrating minutes. He had 12 points and six rebounds, but he often got lost on his defensive assignments. He was not alone on this night. All players who spent time on Hardaway, Anderson, or Armstrong struggled. Antoine Walker gave the Celtics 20 points and eight rebounds. But the Celtics didn't struggle with scoring. They needed someone who was in shutdown mode. Once again, Walker said that it is not time for panic. "We don't have time for that," he said. "We need to get a split out of this Florida trip." The Celtics haven't defeated Miami since 1996. If they are going to win in '99, they'll need help from players of all sizes.

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