Written By Bobby Oster
In the first game of the Eastern Conference Finals, the Orlando Magic experienced their first proverbial punch to the gut. Up to now, the competition that they had faced hadn’t been able to fully test the team; even before the playoffs began, they hadn’t experienced a loss since the beginning of April. The good news, for Magic fans, is that the team was able to come back from a 20 point deficit and play an inspired 4th quarter to make the game seem like it was competitive in the end. The bad news is that the Celtics never trailed in the game and were incredibly effective at shutting down the Orlando offense.
The Celtics put on the pressure from the outset quickly earning a 9-5 advantage in the first three minutes of the game. By the end of the first period, the lead had ballooned to eight and it was beginning to look like the Magic were going to let the game get out of hand. After Rasheed Wallace drained a three at 9:44 in the second quarter, Stan Van Gundy called a timeout to stop the bleeding and refocus his team. The pep talk seemed to work as the Magic went on to rally back to within a three point deficit, bringing the score to 43-40.
At this point, Doc Rivers, sensing that his team was about to let the strong road lead they’d built up slip away, called a timeout to attempt to right the ship. Whatever he said to his team inspired them immediately; as if a switch had been flipped, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce drained three straight perimeter shots to push the Celtics lead back to eight. In the next series of plays, the Magic watched all the gains they’d made disappear: Pierce three made freethrows, Rondo made bank jumper, Allen made three, Timeout Magic.
Despite the fact that the Magic had eighteen turnovers in the game, it was their lack of offense that contributed most to their loss. The Celtics relied on team offense to get easy looks putting up a 21-10 assist advantage. Three point shooting had been a staple for the Magic this post season accounting for 33.04% of their total points – more than any other team. However, when facing the Celtics defense, the Magic were only able to make 22.73% of their threes, well below their 38.36% post season average. Dwight Howard had an especially rough game, struggling to establish a post presence (3-10 FG, 58.33 FT%) and scoring only one field goal in the first half.
In order to get back into the series, the Magic are going to need to exhibit significantly more energy and effort than they showed in the first game. For the Celtics, who’ve already taken away home court advantage, a win tonight would put the Magic into a spot they probably couldn’t recover from. With their post season aspirations likely on the line, will the Magic be able to bounce back and even the series?