In arguably one of the most crushing defeats in franchise history, the Orlando Magic dropped a 95-92 contest due to poor late-game execution which rendered their heretofore impressive fourth-quarter rally meaningless. Dwight Howard scored 30 for Orlando, while shooting guards Vince Carter and J.J. Redick added 16 apiece. But those two were involved in two separate, but equally damning, late-game errors which cost Orlando a chance at victory. Paul Pierce scored 28 to lead the way for Boston, while Rajon Rondo hit timely shots throughout the game on his way to 25 points. With 34.7 seconds remaining and the Magic trailing by 3, Carter ran a high pick-and-roll with Howard and wisely attacked Glen Davis, Howard's man, off the dribble, taking him all the way to the basket and drawing the foul. An 84% free-throw shooter on the year, he clanked both foul shots--neither looked good on the release, really--which forced Orlando to make the biggest stop of its season and get a timeout. Kevin Garnett's open jumper from near the top of the key missed, and Redick corralled the rebound. But rather than immediately calling timeout, he took a few dribbles toward midcourt and then called it. His decision to dribble eliminated the Magic's opportunity to advance the ball to the frontcourt out of the timeout and cost them 3.4 precious seconds. The Magic needed a three-pointer to force overtime, yet had to inbound the ball from the backcourt. Jameer Nelson's heave fell short, and now Orlando faces a 2-0 series deficit heading back to Boston.
|Green denotes a stat better than the team's regular-season average;
red denotes a stat worse than the team's regular-season average.
What makes this loss doubly frustrating is that Orlando indeed made the proper adjustments. Howard still got his share of post-up opportunities, but he moved more decisively this time, and showed softer touch and a calmer demeanor than he did in Game 1. He also got some chances on the move. Yet he didn't have much help on offense apart from Redick, who drilled some big shots, repeatedly attacked the teeth of Boston's defense, and made excellent passes. Nelson and Carter missed Howard on his rolls to the rim several times. Rashard Lewis did a better job of getting him the ball in useful spots, but that's it. Lewis, who is suffering from the flu, shot 2-of-6 from the floor, grabbed 4 rebounds, and dished 4 assists in a team-high 41 minutes.
Boston's defense had some holes, such as when they overplayed the pick-and-roll and unwittingly left Howard open. But as I said, Nelson and Carter got tunnel vision and didn't always manage to deliver the ball to him. The biggest factor in their defensive success, I thought, was their removal of the three-point shot. The Magic shot a solid 38.9% from beyond the arc, but managed only 18 attempts. Boston can live with Howard scoring efficiently, and even getting some dunks, if it can limit the three-pointer. That's exactly what happened tonight.
On the other end, Orlando was simply a step slow. Yes, it held the Celtics to just below their average efficiency, and yes, it forced some turnovers. However, the Magic moved sluggishly on defense. Matt Barnes and Mickael Pietrus too often allowed Pierce to catch the ball in his comfort zone--really anywhere from 15 to 18 feet from the basket, but especially on the right side, elbow extended--and he made them pay by sinking some signature stepback jumpers. He also drew fouls, some more legitimate than others, to work his way to the line. That is his game. Orlando has done nothing to take him out of it. He is truly feeling it, which helps to explain this Tweet he sent shortly after the game, though its questionable timing and mode of transmission has led many people to believe he isn't actually responsible for it.
But the Magic did not totally dog it defensively. They defended Boston's most critical baskets fairly well. At the 2:35 mark of the final period, Garnett gave the Celtics the lead for good with a fadeaway jumper from the left baseline over a hard contest from Howard, whose palm could scarcely have been closer to Garnett's face without touching it just before the release. Great defense succumbed to better offense. After Redick turned the ball over on Orlando's next possession, as Davis slid in underneath a driving layup attempt to draw the charge, Orlando elected to double-team Pierce a few feet beyond the arc as he milked the clock. He managed to find Rondo on the left wing, where Rondo drilled a jumper seconds before the shot clock expired. If you're going to double off of any Celtic, it has to be Rondo, who lacks range on his jumper. But tonight, he had it going as well. That basket gave Boston a 93-90 lead.
Nelson tried to counter with a tying three-pointer off the bounce over Rondo, but he rushed the shot--only 12 seconds elapsed--and Orlando wasn't in position for the rebound. He redeemed himself on the next play by zipping right by Rondo for a tough layup in traffic to bring Orlando to within one, which only highlighted the silliness of taking that previous quick three.
The Magic have to get more out of Lewis and Nelson offensively if they are to have a prayer in this series. But defense might be their biggest problem. Sure, they can live with Rondo shooting jumpers, especially when Garnett (5-of-16) and Ray Allen (1-of-6, and a total non-factor) aren't hitting. But they cannot continue to let Pierce fire away from his spot.
As for Carter and Redick? Barring a miraculous comeback to win this series, their gaffes will go down as one of the most glaring in Magic history. Carter's reputation for not delivering in the clutch worsened tonight, and I expect several national, mainstream media columnists to paste him in the papers and on the internet tomorrow for failing to come through. They will mention his decision to attend his college graduation the morning of a Game 7, which he concluded by missing what would have been the game-winning shot. They'll compare him to Kobe Bryant and talk about unfulfilled potential. They'll invoke the term "legacy." None of that matters now, though. Carter and the Magic can't worry about any of that. Just gear up and play hard. Winning at least one game in Boston would ensure that they'd return to play another game at Amway Arena.
Crazy as it seems, tonight might have been the last pro basketball game in the history of that building, which has hosted the Magic since their inception in 1989.