The Magic beat the Raptors last night, 104-103, to take a 2-0 series lead before heading to Toronto for Games Three and Four. Dwight Howard once again dominated, posting 29 points and 20 rebounds, and his rejection of a Chris Bosh hook-shot -- his third block of the night -- with 23 seconds left to play essentially sealed the game for us. The Raptors fouled Hedo Turkoglu on the ensuing play, and he made both his free throws to extend the lead to three points. The Magic surrendered a layup to Carlos Delfino, knowing that the Raptors would have to foul the rest of the way. A questionable offensive foul call on Keyon Dooling gave the Raptors the game's final possession, but Bosh's fadeaway 21-footer at the buzzer (a play-call with which The Arsenalist was not pleased) fell short.
As with the first game in the series, the difference in last night's game was the Raptors' poor first-quarter play. Mitchell's team was unprepared yet again. The Raptors coach used the same ineffective starting lineup in Game Two that he did in Game One, and the result was essentially the same: Toronto trailed by 17 points after the first quarter last night, although by different means than when it trailed by 20 points after the first quarter in Game One. Whereas the Magic blew Game One open with nine three-pointers in the first frame, they blew Game Two open with fast-break baskets. Not to pile too heavily on Mitchell, but his team has surrendered an average of 39 points in the first quarters of its playoff games this year. It doesn't matter, in the won/loss column, anyway, that the Raptors rebound from their slow starts to match or exceed the Magic in the rest of the games. Their poor starts are dooming them.
In some ways, I'm happier with the win last night than I was with the blowout victory in Game One. Yes, margin of victory is a better indicator of team's ability level than simple won/lost record, and from that standpoint, Game One was a more impressive showing. But what I'm impressed with is our ability to win even though the three-point shot -- the most important part of our offense -- wasn't falling. We also managed to keep our composure in a hotly contested game when we could have melted down. Last year's team might have given up when the Raptors took a one-point lead with one minute to play, but we stuck with it. Confidence works wonders.
I want to say that we'll bury the Raptors in the next two games because Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu are going to get their shots to fall at some point. However, I'm not headed to the closet to fetch the broom just yet; Lewis may not ever get it going this series. He's playing his heart out and within the flow of the offense, which I like, but he just looks fatigued. He's using so much energy trying to stop Chris Bosh defensively that he doesn't have his legs under him; all of his three-point tries last night came up well short, even from the corner, where the line is slightly closer. At least he's making other contributions, though; he had five assists and five rebounds last night, including one just before the buzzer to preserve the Magic's one-point win.
After the game, Mitchell told reporters that he plans on adjusting the Raptors' starting lineup for Game Three. He didn't offer specifics, but his plan almost certainly has to include inserting Jose Calderon and Jason Kapono into the first five, which scares me. However, the fact that he's waiting until Game Three to make rotation adjustments bodes well for us. We haven't had to change anything in this series. Everyone knows his role. Stan Van Gundy has our guys well prepared, which is why I'm confident we'll win at least one of the next two games in Toronto.
Let's not forget, though, that the last time we played north of the border, Bosh dropped 40 points on Dwight Howard, and the Raptors ran us out of the gym. Luckily for us, Dwight's playing the best basketball of his career right now, and likely won't be stopped.