Orlando Magic crush Boston Celtics, move on to Eastern Conference Finals


Tonight, we saw a historic performance from the Orlando Magic, as they advanced to the third Eastern Conference Finals in franchise history. Here’s a look at the key elements that made up the greatest game of the season and arguably the biggest game in Orlando’s 20-year history. Hedo Turkoglu was clutch For all the money Hedo Turkoglu might have lost with his erratic player over the last 12 games, he may have just earned it all back with a rousing performance in Game 7. We saw the free-agent-to-be return to his role as Mr. Fourth Quarter — the same guy we saw most of last season and off-and-on throughout this season. Turkoglu scored 25 points, shot 75 percent and dished out a head-turning 12 assists, reminding us all why the Magic chose him to be their leading playmaker and primary facilitator. I forgot Turkoglu could be this good. Coming into tonight, some people were calling for Turkoglu to be removed from the starting lineup. He was, after all, shooting 39 percent from the field in the playoffs and coming off a seven-point performance in Game 6. It was hard to argue with that logic. He was killing the Magic. But tonight, we saw Turkoglu as the matchup nightmare and clutch performer that won the NBA’s most improved player award in 2008. When Ray Allen sunk a 3-pointer to cut the lead to 90-78 with just under 5 minutes to play, it was looking like the Celtics had a run in them. But Turkoglu responded with a demoralizing 3-pointer on the next possession, and a 19-footer off the dribble after that. In less than 30 seconds, Turkoglu single-handedly deflated the arena and put the game out of question. Mr. Fourth Quarter. The Magic made the Celtics quit For the first time all series, the Celtics’ spirits were broken. This Boston team — which I believe was undermanned against the Magic — scratched and clawed as far as it could. Paul Pierce looked beaten down and sick of facing double-teams. Rajon Rondo was neutralized. Eddie House was shut down, and Kendrick Perkins missed eight shots, which is more than he should ever be taking. Ray Allen tried to keep the Celtics afloat, but Orlando’s defense and timely 3-pointers were too much. Early in the fourth quarter, you could see it in Pierce’s eyes — he was ready for the season to be over. He’d taken his team as far as he could, but this was it. The Eastern Conference Finals were a bit too ambitious. For how frustrating/annoying it is to play against Pierce, I respect his game more than maybe any other player in the NBA. He’s so good, so crafty, so smart. Anytime he’s in the game his team can win, and I put him up there with Kobe, D-Wade and LeBron as clutch scorers. With 10 seconds left and a tie game, he’s probably the last guy in the league I’d want to go up against. Finally, the shooters had an on night Before the game, Stan Van Gundy said the Game 7 winner would come down to which team can make more shots. He was right. Orlando hit 61.9 of their 3-pointers and 51.4 percent of their field goals. They didn’t go through any significant stretches of coldness. They never stopped attacking, continually penetrating and going inside to create open looks on the perimeter. It was beautiful to watch. The Magic put together a complete game Playing a complete game has been a problem for Orlando in these playoffs — the issue culminated in Game 5, when the Magic surrendered a double-digit lead with 5 minutes to go. Tonight, Orlando played a full 48 minutes. The Magic outscored the Celtics 27-17 in the first quarter and 35-21 in the fourth quarter. That’s 62-38 in the two most important quarters. They never slowed down, never played stall-ball. There wasn’t any standing around and waiting for the shot clock to read 12 before starting their offense. The Magic kept playing their game. When they’re playing like that, they can beat anyone. Even Cleveland. Key numbers: 3 — Said Dwight Howard, in the post-game press conference: “We’ve got the new ESPN stat. We are now 3-0 when we call out our coach.” 11 — Consecutive points Orlando opened the fourth quarter with, seizing control of the game. The Magic led 66-61 going into the fourth quarter, and it appeared to be anyone’s game at that point. The Magic changed that very quickly. 33 — Point differential of +/- between Dwight Howard and Marcin Gortat. Howard, who played 38:06 and battled some late foul trouble, was +26. Gortat, meanwhile, was the only Magic player in the negative with -7 in 9:54. Coincidence? The Magic will have two days to prepare for Cleveland, with the series beginning Wednesday at 8:30. Orlando has had some success against Cleveland this season. Will that transcend into the playoffs?