See that here. Watching this game was like sitti..."/> See that here. Watching this game was like sitti..."/> See that here. Watching this game was like sitti..."/>

Effort, defense lead Orlando Magic to Game 7 showdown with Boston Celtics


I wrote for the Boston Herald tonight, as well. See that here. Watching this game was like sitting in on a Colonoscopy… It was painful to watch, there wasn’t a whole lot going on and both sides were extremely uncomfortable. Every move is so crucial. It’s tense. That’s why we watch the NBA. It was a game where the Magic didn’t play very crisply, especially on offense. They shot 36.6 percent from the field, 23.1 percent from 3-point range and 54.8 percent from the free-throw line, all while being significantly outrebounded throughout the game (including 16 boards from Rajon Rondo). But the Magic won by relying on something that has been a problem in these same playoffs: effort, defense, and a couple much-needed baskets down the stretch. They flourished in the hustle stats: 16 offensive rebounds, 24 second-chance points, 22 forced turnovers and 28 points off turnovers. And, in the second half, the Magic put together possibly the greatest defensive performance I’ve seen out of this team this season. The Magic outscored the Celtics 38-29 in the final two quarters, clamping down on the Celtics and allowing them very few easy buckets. The Magic kept the Celtics away from their two favorite places to score: the paint and the free-throw line. In the second half:

Boston: 4 points in the paint

Boston: 6 free-throw attempts

Ray Allen: 0 points

Celtics bench: 2 points

Boston: 13 turnovers

Have the Magic played a better half of defensive basketball this season? “The momentum for us started on defense, with all of our stops,” said Rafer Alston, who scored five big points in the final 4 minutes. “If we could’ve converted on some of those stops in the fourth quarter, we could’ve had a bigger lead much earlier.” Alston hit a big 3-pointer and a floater through the lane to put the Magic up 78-75. And no shot was bigger than on the Magic’s next possession, when Hedo Turkoglu sunk a step-back 3 to make it 81-75. “It’s going to be up and down,” Turkoglu said of his play. He had seven points tonight. “I can’t worry about if I’m making or missing. If I have a good shot, I take it.” To be fair, the Celtics played an absolutely atrocious half of offense. I feel like it’s a bit unfair to talk about Orlando’s defensive effort without mentioning Boston’s lack of focus. A good number of Boston’s turnovers were forced, and a good number were not. For all the great things Rondo does, he committed two totally unforced turnovers tonight – one where a pass slipped out of his hands, and another where he threw a bounce pass to no one in particular. And he wasn’t the only Boston player guilty of a dumb turnover. The Celtics had opportunities to put the game away early on. They led by as much as 10 in the first half, but the Magic continually clawed back by hitting a big shot to bring the game closer. With 4:51 to go, the Magic saw another fourth-quarter lead disappear. Paul Pierce made three unanswered jump shots to put the Celtics up 73-72, and it looked like another Magic collapse was on the way. The life was sucked out of the arena as you knew all 18,000 people were thinking the same thing: oh no, not again. But, unlike the previous two games, the Magic were the ones to take control of the game. Alston hit a big 3-pointer, then Rondo hit a floater to tie it at 75-75. The Celtics wouldn’t score again, as the Magic scored on four of their next five possessions and cruised to the 83-75 win. Now, the Magic head to Boston for a do-or-die, one-time opportunity to play the Cavaliers in their first Eastern Conference Finals since the Shaq era. Really, there’s not much more you can hope for. Like Dwight Howard said, this gives us a little taste of the NCAA Tournament in May. And the NCAA Tournament is the best thing in sports. What they’re saying: Dwight Howard, on what he learned from the previous game: “Keep my mouth shut. Go into the coaches office. We’re both men, so we can sit down and talk about it.” JJ Redick, on his shooting woes: “It’s weird, man. It really is. Maybe it’s because I’m chasing him around my legs are a little toasted. I’m getting good looks. My teammates are doing a great job of finding me on the weak side. I know the next one’s going in.” Hedo Turkoglu: “Believe it or not, this series should’ve been over in the fifth game.” Stan Van Gundy: “When Dwight is playing with the energy and the effort that he played with tonight, you know maximizing his athletic gifts, he’s just a very, very tough guy to play on the move. It took a lot of energy.”