In a wild finish, the Boston Celtics rallied from a 14-point deficit with 8:48 to play to stun the visiting Orlando Magic, 92-88, and to take a commanding 3-2 lead in their second-round playoff series. Boston went on a 29-11 run from there to send the Magic back to Orlando unhappy.
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Perhaps my choice of the word "stunning" in the opening paragraph overstates the result of the game. The narrative around the Magic since March, when Phoenix Suns center Shaquille O'Neal called coach Stan Van Gundy a "master of panic," has been that they're a weak-hearted team that simply cannot finish games. The media perpetuated this story, as is their job, but it was mostly untrue: Orlando went 52-1 in the regular season when leading with 5 minutes to go in a game. But after a jaw-dropping, 18-point comeback by the inferior Philadelphia 76ers in the very first game of these playoffs, the perception of the Magic as weak resurfaced. Philadelphia almost rallied to win the second game of that series, too. Last week, the Celtics rallied from a 28-point deficit to nearly win. Orlando has indeed had trouble closing teams out of late, which is why the outcome of this game--especially given the opponent, the resilient, legendary, defending champion Boston Celtics--won't shock too many people.
Understand that the Magic outplayed the Celtics for the game's first 40 minutes. Boston's offensive execution left a lot to be desired, while Orlando (mostly) played a controlled game and executed its offense. Henry Abbott is right when he notes that Rafer Alston's inexplicable hot streak--he went 6-of-15 in the game, which is "hot" for him--made the Magic's offense look better than it really was, since he really took some bad shots. But I appreciated Rashard Lewis driving to the basket consistently (and finishing once there), and in general the team's ball movement was crisp. But then the 4th quarter came around, as it was bound to. And that's when everything went to pot for Orlando.
Everyone in the TD Banknorth Garden, and everyone watching the game at home, knew that the Celtics had a run left in them, even as poorly as they played up to then. What was in question was the Magic's ability to hold the lead. Admittedly, I figured they would once Anthony Johnson connected with Mickael Pietrus on an uncontested alley-oop dunk with 8:48 to play. Orlando led by 14. These numbers should sound familiar to you.
From that point on, Boston had 15 possessions. It scored on 13 of them. The Magic could not get a stop when it counted most, a fact made doubly fatal due to their suddenly stagnant offense. Orlando went without a field goal for the last 5:39 of the game, shooting 3-of-4 from the line in that span for its only points. Hedo Turkoglu had, to that point, orchestrated four consecutive Orlando baskets with smart decisions and on-target passes. From then on.... nothing for the Magic. Alston and Turkoglu missed layups--both players probably deserved foul calls, but that's another matter entirely--while Lewis decided to shoot from the perimeter, missing badly on most of his attempts. He also threw an errant, ill-advised entry pass to Dwight Howard which Ray Allen deflected, forcing Alston to heave a deep three-pointer as the shot-clock expired. What the Magic did offensively in the game's final 6 minutes is not what they had done during its first 42, in which they were clearly the better team. Again, Van Gundy's coaching will come into question.
Regarding the Celtics' comeback: Orlando can, I think, live with Stephon Marbury and Glen Davis drilling long jumpers. Better them than, say, Paul Pierce or Ray Allen. Give Marbury credit for coming up big--12 fourth-period points--when it mattered most, but also acknowledge that he is the guy Orlando wants taking long jumpers. The fact that he made them, and arguably won the Celtics the game, is what hurts.
There's plenty of room to play "what if?" tonight. What if the officials corrected the error on a three-point shot Ray Allen made which should have only counted for two? What if Turkoglu and Alston get the benefit of the whistle on their respective missed layups in the fourth period? What if one of Marbury's jumpers rims out instead of catching all bottom? What if the Magic are able to secure a defensive rebound with a minute left in the game, after Boston missed two straight shots yet managed to hold possession for 52 seconds due to its offensive rebounds? Ultimately, the answers to these questions are immaterial. Orlando now faces the daunting task of having to win its next two games, the last of which will be played here in Boston, if necessary.
Kudos to Boston for a remarkable comeback. Kudos to Lewis for a well-played game. Kudos to Turkoglu for making good decisions. Kudos to Howard for holding his own on the glass, and kudos to Kendrick Perkins for holding Howard to 12 points on 5-of-10 shooting. Great game, especially for liberated fans with no real rooting interest.
Boston can close out the series Thursday night in Game 6 at Amway Arena, while Orlando will fight to keep its season alive. I'll be in attendance as a credentialed member of the media, so there's at least that to look forward to.