Magic-Celtics: Five keys for Game 5
BOSTON -- Of the four games in this Eastern Conference semifinal series, only one has been worth the price of admission if you expect your ticket dollar to ensure a tight, close-fought game in which both teams play well at the same time: Sunday night's nail-biter in Orlando won by the Celtics on Glen "Big Baby" Davis' jumper at the buzzer.
The series is deadlocked 2-2 heading into Tuesday's pivotal Game 5, with the undermanned defending champions back on their home court.
Let's take a look at five factors that will play a big role in determining which of these teams, the Magic or Celtics, will be heading to Orlando holding a 3-2 lead.
1. The point guard matchup
The advantage for the Celtics at the point has been enormous, with Rajon Rondo playing so well you can make the argument that he has supplanted Paul Pierce as Boston's most important piece. He is averaging nearly a triple-double in the playoffs overall (18.3 ppg, 10.5 apg, 9.5 rpg) and in this series (16.3 ppg, 8.8 apg, 10.0 rpg).
Meanwhile Orlando has gotten little more than headaches from starter Rafer Alston (shooting 8 percent from 3-point range in this series, and no, that is not a typo). Coach Stan Van Gundy could and perhaps should be thinking about handing the keys over to backup Anthony Johnson.
2. The shooting guard matchup
In Boston's first-round series against Chicago, Ray Allen silenced his critics with a fantastic final six games after his Game 1 dud. But he has yet to have a breakout offensive night in this series -- he's shooting just 34 percent overall and only 12.5 percent on 3-pointers, primarily against defenders J.J. Redick and Mickael Pietrus.
In Game 5, he'll probably see a lot more of Courtney Lee, who came off the bench in Game 4 as the Eddie House stopper, holding him to a goose egg. If Lee returns to the starting lineup, we'll see whether Redick retains the confidence he showed as a starter.
3. Superman versus Perk
Boston's big fellow, Kendrick Perkins, has more than held his own against Dwight Howard in the low block, despite having a strained left shoulder to add to his already-sore right shoulder. Perkins has been adept at moving Howard out of his comfort zone and out of the position where the Magic center likes to execute his go-to move, the drop-step that assistant coach Patrick Ewing has been trying to help Howard perfect. And while Perkins is usually prone to foul trouble, he has avoided it this series.
To support Perkins, Boston coach Doc Rivers has shown more confidence in Glen Davis than Mikki Moore as a second one-on-one defender against Howard. The book on beating Howard (especially when you don't have the depth to use fouls against him) includes a chapter on using beefy, burly players to get up and under him to move him away from the basket. The Pistons have done that in the past, saying Howard has weak legs.
This is uncharted territory for the Magic. Not so for the Celtics.
That's something to think about if Howard is standing on the free throw line late in the fourth quarter with his mind racing and his eyes looking everywhere except at the front of the rim. Also something to consider if the Celtics are down one again and have the ball in their hands for the last shot.
They're depleted, but they still have shooters ready to strike: Pierce, Allen and House, plus Big Baby from 18 to 20 feet on the left side, as we've seen. If the situation is reversed, we'll see if Hedo Turkoglu has a game-winner in him this series, because there's a strong likelihood he's taking the final shot.
5. KG's subs
Orlando forward Rashard Lewis has killed Brian Scalabrine when the Celtics have had to sit Davis, who is himself a step down from the man he's replacing, 2008 Defensive Player of the Year Kevin Garnett.
So one of the things to look for in Game 5 is the number of times Alston takes a bad shot rather than resetting the offense and running a set play that gets Lewis, Turkoglu or Howard the ball against a weaker, perhaps foul-stricken Celtics defender.
Chris Sheridan covers the NBA for ESPN Insider. To e-mail Sheridan, click here.