Sat May 22 11:55pm EDT
Boston 94, Orlando 71; Boston leads the series, 3-0
They have to play the game, perfectly.
Seriously, that's how the Orlando Magic made their mark. No team executed like the Orlando Magic, over the last two seasons. No team. Didn't make them the best team, didn't make them the hardest working, or most cerebral of outfits. But the Magic, more than any other team in this league, executed to the absolute best of their abilities. They weren't perfect, but they flew closest to that sort of lofty status.
And not only have they picked the wrong time to turn in a, um, less-than-perfect showing; but they're up against a team that seems to have learned from the Orlando Magic squad that we saw starting in November of 2008 to, oh, about last Sunday.
Because the Boston Celtics are squeezing every possible ounce out of this combination. This roster. This collection of talent. The Celtics are playing almost perfect basketball, on either end.
Doesn't make them the best, we don't think. Doesn't make them the hardest working team, or the smartest. They're just getting the most out of what they have. They're what the Magic used to be, and they're up 3-0 on the Orlando Magic. They've one game to win in four tries in order to make the NBA Finals for the second time in three seasons.
And the Magic? Something happened. And that "something" wasn't completely Boston's doing. Close, but not completely Boston's workmanship.
They don't execute as well as they used to, it's that easy. Beyond that? They don't rotate properly. The initial and extra passes aren't tossed and quickly and as expertly as demanded by the setting. The Magic pass up shots they should take, and don't completely run the fundamentals needed to take the shots they do take. Pick a spot on the floor, pick a player, and I'll point to someone who isn't executing as well as he used to.
Point to a Celtic, save for Nate Robinson(notes) (he'll be wandering away from the huddle), and you'll see someone who is doing everything right. Extra passes, terrific movement off the ball on both ends of the court (think about that), awareness, aggressiveness in the right places, and focus.
Execution. Over 110 points per 100 possessions in this game for a team that, really, isn't amongst the world-beaters offensively. Just fantastic basketball, and in spite of the close scores in the first two games of this series, a 3-0 advantage that is well-earned.
And the odds-on favorite to sweep on Monday, regardless of whether the listless Magic are in town, or the executing-at-all-costs Magic from weeks and months' past are in town. You've heard of firing on all cylinders? These are the Boston Celtics, as presently constructed. They're a Bugatti Veyron. They're your worst nightmare - a smart, talented, veteran team gone all perfect on us.
The game? A blowout from the beginning. The Magic needed three minutes of game action to put a point on the board. Boston wouldn't let them turn the corner easily on a screen and roll, so they just stopped, and let the action come to them. And the action came to them in the form of Rajon Rondo(notes), with his penetration. Glen Davis(notes), with scores off the bench. Kendrick Perkins(notes) and Kevin Garnett(notes), with those moving feet. Paul Pierce(notes), hitting shot after shot to start the game in order to set the tone. The tone that went "bang."
The Magic missed some shots, mostly long jumpers, shots they should have made. The Celtics took away several Orlando shots that the Magic should have taken, and the Magic themselves passed up on several shots that they usually take and oftentimes make at a high percentage. Those possessions add up, especially when you factor in the 17 turnovers, and a pathetic three offensive rebounds in spite of having 41 field goal misses to chase after.
Hedo Turkoglu(notes) wouldn't have helped, mind you. The last I remember from Hedo, he wasn't really straying too far inside the three-point line. The Hedo I remember before that, in his last days in a Magic uniform, was mistaking activity for achievement on the wrong end of a series of failed screen and rolls against the Lakers. Vince Carter's(notes) a doof, but this Orlando failure runs deep. It's not all on VC. Sadly. God, that'd be sweet.
It's Jameer Nelson(notes) refusing to cut hard and dive toward the paint after getting a sound screen. It's Rashard Lewis(notes) passing up shots in order to play make up a few possessions later, shooting something he shouldn't. It's Vince Carter, betraying his talent for the tenth year in a row (and for all those waxing over how great he was in 2000-01, stop; Vince was infuriating to watch that year until the playoffs). It's Dwight Howard(notes), just short to the loose balls, the lobs, the offensive rebounds. Not sure if this is his fault or not, but he used to get to those.
It's Boston. Ho-lee cow is it Boston.
Stan Van Gundy was quick to blame himself after this loss, and that's not self-serving moping styled to disarm. He truly feels that way, and he's fine to feel that way.
The problem is that Orlando isn't anywhere near the team it has been over the last two seasons - championship contenders the whole way - if it wasn't for him. It's not Howard, and it's not the depth. It's Stan Van Gundy. And if his players don't want to taste what they've had before, a chance to play for that championship in the NBA's final round, then this isn't on Van Gundy. Because he wants that taste, again. I know he wants to chase that dragon. I don't know if his players care enough to.
Boston wants it. Boston's been there and they won it and they were built to win now and they have had every reason to pack it in after winning now, then, but they still want it. They leave you breathless, and your sentences running-on. They dealt with it all, they came back too early, they came back too weak, and they were told not to come back at all. They were told that it wouldn't matter, even if they were to come back. And they came back, anyway. Celtics, man.