The Orlando Magic, roundly criticized as "masters of panic"--echoing an epithet Shaquille O'Neal bestowed upon their coach, Stan Van Gundy, earlier this year--after their epic collapse against the Boston Celtics in Game 5, responded in Game 6 with an intense, grind-it-out victory. They were not the "masters of panic;" they mastered panic. More on that specific situation momentarily. Dwight Howard tallied game-highs with 23 points and 22 rebounds (10 offensive) as the Magic made a concerted effort to get him the ball on the move. Rashard Lewis added 20 points for Orlando, which overcame a poor shooting night (36.6%) by converting 22 Boston turnovers into 28 points. Game 7, the first in modern Magic history but the fourth for the Celtics in the last two seasons, tips this Sunday at 8 PM on TNT.
|Team||Pace||Efficiency||eFG%||FT Rate||OReb%||TO Rate|
Here's where the Magic could have panicked: the Magic held a 72-67 lead with 6:51 to play, but Celtics forward Paul Pierce made three straight jumpers near his sweet spot on the right wing, foul-line extended, to put Boston ahead by one. Van Gundy immediately called timeout. With a contingent of Celtics fans chanting "Let's go, Celtics!" in the upper bowl, and with Pierce warming up, it appeared as though Boston had the upper hand.
The Magic didn't crumble. In fact, they played their most inspired stretch of basketball in recent memory. Orlando closed the game out on an 11-2 run, effectively putting the game away on a three-pointer from Hedo Turkoglu with 1:24 to play. Turkoglu was 2-of-12 prior to launching that shot--which he took with 14 seconds on the shot-clock--but pulled the trigger anyway. In his postgame comments, Lewis said he and his teammates had told Turkoglu during timeouts to keep shooting. He did, and the result was fitting: the Magic's Mister Fourth Quarter for two seasons running iced the Magic's biggest win of the year.
But win or lose tonight, the Magic weren't going down without a fight. They played active, energetic, smart basketball almost the entire way, and should be commended for their effort. Apart from Turkoglu's big three, all of the Magic's shots as they tried to close the game out came on drives to the basket. Driving the ball is always a good idea, but it was especially important for them to do it late in this game with Boston in the penalty. Nobody expects the Magic to beat the Celtics when they shoot as poorly as they did tonight, or when they allow Boston to rebound 31.6% of its own misses. But they fought hard, forcing 22 turnovers in an 86-possession game. As the four factors char above shows, that's a turnover more than once every four trips down the floor. Boston indeed played sloppily, but credit the Magic's quick, alert defense for coming up with some big deflections.
Boston players expressed frustration with their own effort after the game, with Kendrick Perkins--who tallied an impressive 15 points, 11 boards, and 3 blocks--summing it up best:
"We felt like we beat ourselves tonight."
Meanwhile, Rajon Rondo said:
"I guess we just choked."
The big subplot tonight and throughout tomorrow will be Dwight Howard's redemption. He followed up a poor performance in Game 5--after which he complained about his lack of involvement in the offense--with one of his best all-around efforts of the postseason. I detailed the numbers above, but here they are again: 23 points, 22 rebounds, and 3 blocks. He wanted to dominate this game from the get-go, and it showed. He scored Orlando's first 8 points, and added 6 boards and 1 block in the period. When he dunked over a prone Brian Scalabrine for his 8th point, he earned a technical foul for tossing the ball on Scal. Probably an immature play, but it made one thing abundantly clear: he was here to impose his will on the game, and nobody--least of all Brian Scalabrine--was going to stop him.
So how did he remain focused in the wake of his very public criticism of Van Gundy after Game 5?
"I just kept my TVs off, played my videogames, and just.... I didn't try to get into it. I knew I was gonna get scrutinized for whatever I said."
That's sharp focus from the Magic's 23-year-old franchise player, and it went a long way toward securing victory for them tonight. But Dwight did not do it alone. He got some motivational help from his teammates, especially the one nicknamed "Dad":
"Anthony Johnson, he talked to me this morning and the thing he told me is that I have to dominate in order for us to win. And it's not about getting shots, but attacking the glass. I think that kind of gets me energized when I attack the glass."
If these remarks seem familiar, they should. Van Gundy said in his pre-game comments that he told Howard that rebounding and defense needed to be his top priorities tonight. He delivered, and he also learned an important lesson. When Chris Sheridan of ESPN.com asked him what he learned in the last 48 hours, Dwight smiled sheepishly, thought for a second, and responded thusly:
"My biggest lesson? Keep my mouth shut."
But let's not make this game all about Dwight. His teammates certainly contributed. Lewis is the only other Magic player with a standout linescore, but they all did little things to help the team. Here are 4 other players who deserve some special recognition:
Rafer Alston made two three-pointers and came up with three steals.
Courtney Lee only managed 6 points in 21 minutes, but they were key. His first field goal brought Orlando to within a point, 62-61; his two free throws tied the game at 64; and his second field goal--a beautiful driving layup in transition--bumped Orlando's lead to 70-67. Tremendous play tonight from the rookie.
Mickael Pietrus played tight defense on Pierce, hit two three-pointers en route to 11 points, and made the sort of hustle plays that the Magic expected from him when they signed him to a long-term deal last summer.
J.J. Redick missed all 7 of his shots, but didn't force the issue offensively. He also made Ray Allen (5 points, 2-of-11 shooting) work like heck for his offense. By the way, Redick is now 3-of-25 from the field in the last 4 games.
Great effort tonight from Orlando, which nearly lost the game in the third quarter due to getting off to a horrific start: Orlando went scoreless for the first 5:11 of the period, missing 7 field goals and 4 free throws, with a turnover added for good measure, before Howard rebounded an Alston miss and put it in. Slowly but surely, they worked themselves back into the game--shooting 5-of-12 from the field in the third after Howard's put-back--before finally taking over in the fourth.
Overall, a statistically ugly game for both teams Magic, but obviously the Magic are happy with the win. The execution and effort was there, even though the accuracy wasn't.