Hedo Turkoglu of the Orlando Magic encourages the fans at the Amway Arena to cheer during the final minutes of the Magic's 102-92 win over the Toronto Raptors on Monday night.
Photo by John Raoux, the Associated Press
I've run out of things to say about this team, which is probably good, because I screamed myself hoarse along with 17,518 other fans at the Amway Arena. And after 12 excruciatingly long, cruel years of futility, disappointment, and waiting we finally did it: We won a playoff series.
After squandering an early 10-2 lead and sleepwalking through the first half, we came out strong in the third quarter and held the Raptors to just 18 points in the period. We fought for rebounds, contested every shot, and worked hard on our end, turning a one-point halftime deficit into a six-point lead heading into the fourth quarter, which we dominated, thanks in large part to the incredible crowd at Amway Arena. It's not as though we caught some lucky breaks, or that our guys hit lucky shots, or that Toronto affixed a stamp on this game and mailed it in: we earned this win, and it feels good. Real good.
Honestly, is there anything negative we can say about this team after watching its performance in this series? We still have trouble with turnovers, committing too many while not forcing enough on the other end, and our three-point shooting has been well below average, but the gutsy performances by each and every player have offset those deficiencies.
- Dwight Howard's final averages for this series: 22.6 points, 18.2 rebounds, and 3.8 blocks. He continues to amaze, and the only thing he's changed is his attitude. He's simply working harder. Stan Van Gundy mentioned it in his postgame comments: not once since the Magic began preparing for the playoffs, beginning with the first night the team studied film of the Raptors, has Van Gundy had to reprimand Dwight for not focusing like he should.
- I'm at a loss to explain Rashard Lewis. We sign him for three-point shooting and floor spacing, but this series he stunk it up from long distance, but made up for it by crashing the boards. He had 13 tonight, matching the season-high total he posted in the Game Four win. That's back-to-back double-doubles for Rashard Lewis. Okay, he's a 6'10" forward, he should rebound that well in his sleep, whoop-de-do. But he reached double-figures in rebounding just twice in 81 regular season games. So yes, let's commend him for his willingness to battle for loose balls.
- Jameer Nelson's assists went down (4.8 this series compared to 5.3 in the regular season) but his shooting went up, and I mean way up, as he made the Raptors pay for leaving him open to double-team Dwight Howard. I don't expect him to shoot 58% from the field over the course of a whole season, but there's no reason why he can't average even 15 points per game next year. He's leading this team emotionally, as he should, and is making a strong case that he indeed deserved the 5-year, $35 million contract extension he signed prior to this season.
I think we might have earned the mantle of "Team No One Wants to Face" in the Eastern Conference for the rest of these playoffs.
And we're just in Year One of the Dwight/Rashard/Hedo/Jameer/Van Gundy Era.
And our three-pointers will drop in eventually.
And we're the first team to advance in the playoffs this year, one year to the day after being the first team KO'd in the first round last season.
Let's take some time to enjoy this series win, our first in 12 years, and to express our appreciation for the guys who brought it to us.
And, uh, for those of you who are interested: tickets for Round Two (!) go on sale Wednesday morning.
One last thing: if I were mean spirited, I would have titled this recap "Lame Canada!", but that would have been unfair to the Raptors, who played hard, and to their fans, who are a classy bunch.