Rajon Rondo dribbled baseline, and passing didn’t even register as a thought in his mind. Dwight Howard awaited him in the paint, and Rondo would normally look to find an open shooter on the perimeter. But this wasn’t “pass-first, pass-only” Rondo. This was “Jack the Ripper” Rondo, a cold-blooded, aggressive point guard with murderous eyes and an indomitable will to end human lives. Rondo rose to dunk, rather than passing. And though the Magic fouled Rondo and knocked him on his ass, Jack the Ripper bounced right back to his feet. The message was sent. The Magic weren’t stopping Rondo. Not on this day.
The Celtics fell behind early, and Dwight Howard was playing in video game god mode. Lefty hooks, spin moves both ways, crowd-silencing alley oops; Howard had his entire offensive repertoire on display, and the Celtics couldn’t stop him. (Wait — he has an offensive repertoire?) But the Celtics kept doing what they do. They single-teamed Howard all night, allowing them to close out on shooters (Orlando shot 3-24 from the arc) and limit everything non-Howard.
The Celtics also used a brute physicality. Every time Howard rose for a shot, he was bumped. Every time Hedo Turkoglu came around a screen, he was bumped. Every time Ryan Anderson received the ball down low, he was bumped. Jameer Nelson recently talked about how the Celtics wanted to “bully” the Magic when the two teams played. And that’s what they did today.
The win would feel a lot better, of course, were it not for Marquis Daniels’ neck injury. Daniels went down hard, as if knocked out cold, after hitting his head against Gilbert Arenas’ shoulder. He lay on the ground motionless for a minute or two, while the TD Garden crowd held its collective breath. A stretcher arrived to lift a still-motionless Daniels off the court, as the Celtics kneeled in support around their felled teammate. On his way off the court, Daniels lifted his thumb into the air, and the crowd sighed with deep relief. He was taken to a local hospital, where he was able to move all extremities. Keep him in your prayers.