Six keys for the Celtics in Game 6
Perkins' aggressiveness, injured bigs' effectiveness will be areas to watch
BOSTON -- Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers surveyed the scene after Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals in Orlando -- doctors and trainers scrambling about a locker room that better resembled an emergency room -- and smiled.
"It looked like a MASH unit with all the trainers and doctors," said Rivers. "I'm trying to talk and everyone's got ice. I said, 'This is great, isn't it? This is the playoffs. This is what it should be about. Embrace this moment.' And I think overall, our team will."
Battered and bruised after a 113-92 loss that cut their lead in this best-of-seven series to 3-2, the Celtics limp back to Boston knowing that Game 6 could be a do-or-die situation.
The Magic are playing the brand of inspired basketball that led them to a 59-win regular season and two sweeps to open the playoffs: Jameer Nelson is killing the Celtics off the pick-and-roll; J.J. Redick is making a case for a revote for the NBA Sixth Man Award; and Dwight Howard is throwing elbows as if the playoffs have evolved into some sort of roller derby.
All of which led to the scene in Boston's locker room following Game 5. Bruised physically and maybe a bit mentally, the Celtics vowed not to return to the scene of that crime. They're hoping to wrap up this series during Friday's Game 6 (ESPN, 8:30 p.m.), then lick their wounds in preparation for a return trip to the NBA Finals.
In order to do so, here are six key areas to watch in Friday's Game 6:
Perk being Perk
Rivers admits he's concerned about center Kendrick Perkins' downshifting the aggression of his play solely to avoid the foul trouble -- both regular fouls and the technical variety -- that threatened to sideline him for Game 6.
But the Celtics absolutely cannot beat the Magic if Perkins is not the aggressor in his battle against Howard. So while Perkins needs to play smart (if he gets one more technical he will be suspended for a game), he can't lose his edge.
"We're very concerned [by Perkins' six technicals], but Kendrick has to be allowed to play, he has to be allowed to be physical," said Rivers. "It's amazing how this [series] has gone so far. Kendrick has been in foul trouble and he's not the most physical player on the court -- that's Dwight Howard.
"I keep telling him, be as physical as Dwight and he says, 'Yeah, but I end up in foul trouble.' We're just trying to get Perk to be Perk, not to be concerned with fouls and technicals. But that's very difficult to do."
If the Celtics were smart, they would have burned the Game 5 video -- no need to relive that massacre -- and watched Game 1 on Thursday. That's the type of basketball Boston needs to get back to. The Celtics were the bully to start the series, making Howard's life miserable around the basket.
Perkins committed five fouls that day -- the first two were head-slapping offensive infractions for bad screens -- but avoided fouling out, while still imposing his will on Howard.
Know how many technical fouls Perkins had that day? Zero.
Perkins had the entire second half of Game 5 and what must've been an extremely long off day Thursday to stew after being tossed for picking up two technical fouls in the first half of Wednesday's loss. But the NBA has given him a second chance by rescinding one of those technicals, and he needs to make the most of the opportunity.
How many bigs will be available?
Another key for the battered Celtics is going to be how many big men they'll have for Game 6 and how effective they will be against the Magic.
"Rasheed had been doing better, but he's not moving well at all [Thursday]," said Rivers. "He felt a little better, but we watched film before getting on the plane as a group and he couldn't sit down. He stretched the whole time. He's feeling better, but he'll be a game-time decision."
Officially, Baby and Marquis Daniels (concussion) will be game-time decisions as well.
If either Davis or Wallace is unable to play or is ineffective, that could cause a chain reaction for the Celtics in trying to defend Howard, particularly if Perkins gets into foul trouble.
Where's the defense?
The Celtics -- and particularly associate head coach Tom Thibodeau, Boston's defensive coordinator of sorts -- cannot be happy with the 113-point eyesore the Magic posted in Game 5. The Magic shot 52 percent from beyond the 3-point arc (13-of-25), which was almost as well as they shot from the floor overall (36-of-69, 52.2 percent).
"Clearly the 3-point shot, we gotta take that away," said Rivers. "They'll get some, but we showed them [Thursday] some of the ones they got out of offense -- the pick-and-roll stuff, and the couple they got off offensive rebounds, the 50/50 plays -- those have to be taken away.
"I thought Orlando played harder. I thought they were the aggressor. And I thought they attacked us the entire game. That's something that we can do. That's not a game plan. When we win, we do that. We didn't do that as well as Orlando. They mauled us on the glass and they controlled the tempo of the game.
"No team is going to win a game and not play as hard as the other team. It's not going to happen."
Boston's success starts with limiting Nelson, who continues to fuel Orlando's entire offensive attack by creating havoc off the pick-and-roll and in transition. The Celtics must stay in front of Nelson and force Orlando to create when Boston's defense isn't forced into help mode.
When Boston's defense collapses, it's leading to open looks from the outside, or alley-oop lobs to Howard around the rim. The Celtics thrived by playing one-on-one defense and cannot get caught scrambling or the Magic will make them pay every time.
Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy also noted that his team has found opportunities in transition, which puts an emphasis on Boston to limit that (which is as simple as making shots at the other end).
"I think transition helped us," said Van Gundy. "Looking at the film, we got some [3-pointers] in transition. We got some out of ball movement. We got some when they went under on pick-and-rolls. It was a good mixture.
"But I thought that the overall thing was certainly the energy and the ball movement, and not letting their defense lock in quite as much.
"What we're not getting in this series, and you have to find other ways, we're not going to get inside-out-type stuff. They're not going to come down and double. So you're not going to get the inside-out 3s."
Stopping Pistol J.J.
Outside of Nelson and Howard, no player has slayed the Celtics quite as much this series as Redick. Some in Orlando have even wondered if it makes more sense to start Redick over Vince Carter -- the numbers make a strong case -- but the Magic's ability to bring Redick off the bench is probably more valuable. Tinkering with lineups at this point of the season is never a smart move.
"Well, we didn't know he was going to be Pistol Pete coming into this series, but we did expect him to be a great player," joked Rivers. "J.J. Redick has hurt us all year in the regular season. It was one of the things we talked about going into the series. ... Everyone is talking about Dwight and Jameer, J.J. has been their most consistent player in this series."
Redick is averaging 18.2 points per game against the Celtics in this series. Carter, meanwhile, is averaging 13 points per game.
Home sweet home?
Rivers will be glad to have the fans' support, but the Celtics aren't leaning on the fact that Game 6 is in Boston as a reason to be overconfident.
"No, I don't take comfort in any game where you're at," said Rivers. "I really don't. I like being at home because we're in front of our fans. After [Wednesday] night's game, it's great to come back home and play.
"Having said that, we lost Game 7 last year to the Magic on our home floor. And I think our guys understand that, at the end of the day, you've got to perform on the floor. You just can't come back and feel like your being at home will do it for you. It's got to be played on the floor. If you play well on the floor, then the fans will really help you. But if you're not playing well on the floor, there is nothing the fans can do for you."
As Rajon Rondo noted earlier this week, the Magic can easily erase home-court advantage by taking the fans out of the game with solid play. It's up to Boston to give them something to cheer about.
Keeping Rondo aggressive
Rondo is taking a beating going to the basket and the Celtics haven't hidden their displeasure with the lack of foul calls he's generated, particularly while getting flattened at times.
"It's something that we have sent to the league, I can tell you that," Rivers said. "There was a block [Wednesday] that the one where Howard ran him down with the block. But after the block, the follow through was on top of his back and on his head.
"Rajon has taken a bunch of head shots this series. Just because it's a clean block, the follow-through part of that is still a foul. For Rajon, he just has to stay physical and keep playing the way he plays. I don't think Rajon is going to stop doing what he does. He's an aggressive player. He's got to stay aggressive and play with speed. So I'm not that concerned about that with Rajon."
Chris Forsberg covers the Celtics for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.