By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 23, 2010; D01
BOSTON -- The ball rolled across half court and Orlando's Jason Williams casually jogged back to get it, looking over his shoulder and using his body as a blockade to keep Boston's speedy Rajon Rondo from getting around him.
Rondo, though, refused to give up on the play and dove headfirst to the ground. After his right cheek bounced off Williams's left calf, Rondo extended his right arm between Williams's legs, batted the ball away and cupped it with his left hand. Rondo then hopped up, scooted to the other side of the basket and made a runner off the glass while a stunned Williams wobbled in a daze.
In one play, Rondo and Boston Celtics let the Orlando Magic realize that they wanted it more, and that they weren't go to let up. It didn't matter that Boston had won the first two games of the Eastern Conference finals in Orlando, or that it had already built a double-digit lead in the second quarter of Game 3 on Saturday night. With the Magic providing little resistance, the Celtics rolled right over Orlando, 94-71, at TD Garden and took a 3-0 lead in this best-of-seven NBA playoff series.
"It was an unbelievable play. If that doesn't give your team energy, nothing will," Celtics Coach Doc Rivers said. "Quite honestly, we're not good enough to let up."
Glen "Big Baby" Davis led six Celtics in double figures with 17 points as they moved within one win of making their 21st appearance in the NBA Finals. Game 4 is Monday in Boston and the Celtics have a chance to record their first Eastern Conference finals sweep since Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish beat the Milwaukee Bucks in the 1986. That Celtics team went on to defeat the Houston Rockets to claim the franchise's 16th NBA championship.
It took 22 years before Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen would raise another banner above the parquet floor. The possibility of these Celtics reaching another NBA Finals this June seemed incomprehensible as the postseason began, with Boston stumbling to a ragged regular season finish. But the Celtics are back to playing smothering defense like they did before Garnett hurt his right knee last season and snuffing out superstars along the way.
"We haven't scratched what we did in '08," Rivers said. "Our defense is starting to pick up like that. I can tell you that. And that's good."
Having already eliminated Dwyane Wade's Miami Heat and upset LeBron James's Cleveland Cavaliers, the Celtics are having a much easier time against Dwight Howard and the Magic. Their dominance of Orlando has been astounding given the ease with which the Magic swept both Charlotte and Atlanta in its first two playoff series.
The Celtics are one of the few teams in the league that have the size and front-court depth to defend Howard, who missed his first five shots and finished with just seven points. Boston limited Howard to just three field goals for the second time this series.
The Magic didn't get much offense from anyone other than Vince Carter and Jameer Nelson, who each scored 15 points. Rashard Lewis, who averaged 16.4 points in the Magic's first eight postseason wins, has scored just 15 points this series. He was held to just four points on 2-for-8 shooting. Mickael Pietrus came off the bench to score 12 points for Orlando, which is hoping to avoid its first playoff sweep since losing to Detroit in the first round in 2007.
The Celtics are crushing the hopes of the Magic with precision, execution and bravado. After winning Game 2, Pierce confidently said that the Celtics were looking to close out Orlando at home, then winked into the camera. And, in the fourth quarter on Saturday, fans in Boston already started looking ahead, chanting, "Beat L.A.! Beat L.A.!"
Rondo finished with 11 points and 12 assists, Pierce had 15 points, Allen had 14 points and Garnett and Rasheed Wallace both had 10 points. In the final minute, Celtics started chanting, "Sweep! Sweep!"
"These guys smell it right now," Pierce said. "They know what it feels like to win a championship. You're starting to see urgency really, really come out the closer we get."
Even when the Magic attempted to show some fight, it was the team that wound up hurting in the end. Early in the third period, Garnett was chasing down a loose ball when Magic guard Matt Barnes came charging from behind to foul him. Barnes bumped Garnett in the back with his forearm, but Garnett went soaring into Magic Coach Stan Van Gundy, who was knocked from his chair and on his back.
"The most disappointing to me, was that I didn't have our team better ready to play," Van Gundy said. "It starts with me. I'm not happy with where I had our team, anything about what I did. My plan. Any adjustments. Anything."
The teams had three days to prepare for the game, a layoff that worked against the Celtics in their previous series against Cleveland, as James scored 21 points in the first quarter to lead the Cavaliers to a 29-point beatdown that represents the largest home playoff loss in Boston's storied history.
With Pierce calling Saturday's Game 3 a "must-win," the Celtics held Orlando to just 12 points in the first quarter. Howard didn't get a field goal until he dunked with 10 minutes 3 seconds left in the second period, bringing Orlando within 31-17. Rondo then drove around Williams along the baseline to make a layup. He then put the Celtics ahead by 19 with his steal and surprising layup over Williams. "That was just pure hustle, pure basketball, pure I want-it-more-than-you type of play," Garnett said. "He's just showing the world what he's made of. The future is scary."
"What's that play got to do with the game?" Williams asked. "He hustled. You're supposed to hustle. We didn't hustle. You're supposed to play hard. It ain't about X's and O's no more. It's about playing hard. I can't believe we're down 0-3 in the Eastern Conference finals and we're talking about playing hard. That just boggles my mind."