Magic, Rockets steal Game 1’s on the road

By now you know that the Orlando Magic and Houston Rockets each managed to win Game 1 on the road, but what you may not know is how exactly they managed to pull those wins out.

Orlando rode a 30-17 second quarter to an 18-point lead at halftime, and led by as many as 28 (65-27) with nine minutes to play in the third quarter before the Celtics finally showed up to play. Boston whittled the lead down to four with two minutes to play, but a timely drive by Rafer Alston and four straight free throws by J.J. Redick helped the Magic hold on for the win.

Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo each went 2 of 12 from the field, so most of the Celtics’ scoring was left to Paul Pierce who finished with 23 points on 7 of 18 shooting. Boston simply wasn’t sharp; it might have been fatigue or maybe it was just one of those nights. Dwight Howard finished with 16 points, 22 rebounds and three blocks, and the C’s simply didn’t have an answer for him inside. Rashard Lewis, Hedo Turkoglu and Rafer Alston combined to shoot 17 of 45 (38%) from the field, so it’s not like Orlando was running on all cylinders, either.

Meanwhile, in L.A., the Rockets capitalized on the Lakers’ flat play. Yao Ming posted 28 points and 10 rebounds, while Ron Artest chipped in with 21 points and seven assists. But the key was the play of point guard Aaron Brooks, who outscored Derek Fisher (19 to eight) and came up with a pair of timely buckets in the fourth quarter. Along with Kyle Lowry, the Rockets have quickness in the backcourt that the Lakers can’t match unless they elect to play Shannon Brown and/or Jordan Farmar.

Shane Battier did a nice job defensively on Kobe Bryant, who scored 32 points but didn’t really get going until the Lakers were in scramble mode late in the game. He had seven points in the last 1:32, so without those makes, he was 12 of 29 (41%) for 25 points. Pau Gasol (14 points), Lamar Odom (9 points) and Andrew Bynum (10 points) all had relatively quiet games, which allowed the Rockets to spring the upset. In Artest, Carl Landry, Chuck Hayes and Yao Ming, the Rockets have one of the best defensive front lines in the league, so they have the personnel to slow down the Laker big men.

Watch Battier’s hands when he defends Kobe’s jumper. He essentially sticks his hand right in Kobe’s face, almost as if he’s about to poke Kobe in the eye. This can be distracting to a shooter, though I’m sure Bryant has seen it time and time again. Battier has the quickness and strength to keep Bryant out of the lane (most of the time, anyway) and the Rockets know they have a chance against the Lakers if they can turn Kobe into more of a shooter and less of a scorer.

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