The Orlando Magic gunned their way past the Boston Celtics, 101-82, and into their third-ever appearance in the Eastern Conference finals. Orlando awoke from its series-long three-point-shooting slump by connecting on 13 treys in 21 attempts. Hedo Turkoglu led 5 Magic players in double-figure scoring with 25 points and 12 assists. Mickael Pietrus provided a huge lift off the bench with 17 points (3-of-3 from deep) in 24 minutes. A foul-plagued Dwight Howard nonetheless managed to anchor the Magic's defense with 14 defensive boards and 5 blocked shots; he chipped in with 2 offensive rebounds and 12 points on the other end of the floor. It was an all-around great effort from Orlando, which led throughout and closed out a tired Boston team with a 35-21 final period.
|Team||Pace||Efficiency||eFG%||FT Rate||OReb%||TO Rate|
The first six-plus minutes set the tone for the rest of the game, as Orlando jumped out to a 19-9 lead. The Magic's made field goals during that stretch, in order: a three-pointer by Rafer Alston, a three-pointer by Hedo Turkoglu, a dunk by Dwight Howard, another dunk by Howard, a pull-up jumper by Alston, a three-pointer by Rashard Lewis, a floater by Alston, and yet another dunk by Howard. It was Magic basketball at its finest, with the offense making smart decisions leading to either easy dunks for Howard or open three-balls for his teammates. The nature of most of those baskets--three-pointers and dunks--also helped to take the Celtics' crowd out of the game.
The defense wasn't too shabby, either. Boston shot poorly against the Magic, who had the benefit of usually being able to set their defense after their own made baskets. Ray Allen managed to get hot--one of my biggest fears--with 13 first-half points on his way to 23 for the game, but Paul Pierce's disappearing act (4-of-13, 16 points) might have killed Boston's chances. For the Celtics to win tonight, both he and Allen had to have tremendous games in order to offset the Magic's brilliant shooting. He didn't, and his team lost.
There's really not enough I can say about the Magic's effort tonight that would do it justice. They responded to every Celtic rally, showing signs of the resiliency that made them one of the league's best road teams in each of the past two seasons. No signs of the "Masters of Panic" here. Tonight, it was all business.
An emphatic example of this team shutting the door on the defending champions: after Allen hit a three-pointer to bring Boston to within 12 points with 4:20 to play--again, the game was largely Orlando's to lose at this point, but the shot gave the Celtics momentum, to be sure--Turkoglu answered with a three-pointer of his own, a real dagger. Kendrick Perkins turned the ball over on Boston's ensuing possession. Turk twisted the dagger a bit more after Perkins' turnover, drilling a tough, off-balance 20-footer from the left basline to put Orlando up 17 with 3:28 to play. That was it. He earned back, with interest, every free-agency dollar he potentially lost with his pedestrian play in the first 12 games of the playoffs.
What more is there to say? The Magic defied the odds in rallying back from a 3-2 series deficit against the defending champions, who had been 32-0 in such situations in franchise history. They're 4 wins away from the NBA Finals despite being without the services of their second-best player for almost half the season. Absolutely reason to celebrate in Orlando.
The Eastern Conference Finals begin this Wednesday in Cleveland against the well-rested Cavaliers, who swept their first 8 playoff games, winning each by double-digits. Passing them won't be easy. Then again, that's what most people said about defeating the Celtics in a Game 7 in Boston.