BOSTON – The Orlando Magic praised themselves for resolve and resilience, an $82 million payroll declaring itself too prideful to let the Boston Celtics sweep. Somehow, this passes for perseverance in sports, the loser’s lament of “Hey, we could’ve quit, but we didn’t.” The Magic had been a fraudulent franchise for most of these Eastern Conference finals, and Monday's Game 4 victory stands as much more an indictment of their character than a validation of it.
Why go lay down now? Well, Carter ought to tell everyone, because it’s easy, because that’s all he knows how to do. Here’s the absurdity of the Magic’s 96-92 overtime victory: Someone asked Vince Carter, “Where did the resolve come from?”
How in the world would he know? The resolve? Well, it belonged to someone else on the Magic, to teammates that he’s already let down in this series. Carter tried everything to spare himself pressure of winning Game 4, delivering as many turnovers (three) as he did points (three). He missed eight of his nine shots, defended terribly and looked like he had already booked a vacation to the Caribbean.
“At some point, somebody is going to come from 3-0 down and win a series,” Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said.
Well, it won’t be with Vince Carter and Rashard Lewis(notes) on the floor. It won’t be these Orlando Magic. They’re the reason why the Magic can never come back and win this series, why Dwight Howard(notes) and Jameer Nelson(notes) aren’t enough to make a historic comeback. From those knee-shaking free throws in Game 2, to a complete no-show in Game 3, Carter has played scared, scattered and soulless. Lewis hasn’t been much better.
Nelson is a winner and Howard is trying hard to figure out the way. Still, Nelson was never handed anything in his career, never anointed, and those are the players whom you can always count on when times are toughest. He’s had adversity in his life. Carter has had nothing but big talent, big contracts and big disappointments. Lewis has a $118 million contract, and his best game of the series finally comes with 4-for-10 shooting and 13 points.
In this series now, the Magic could hang around just long enough to get the pressure back on them, just so they can let go all over again. These Magic aren’t constructed for comebacks, just collapses. For one night, they matched the Celtics’ physicality and toughness. For one night, they showed they had the talent to be in this series. They don’t have the mental toughness to hang with Boston. They stole Game 4, and maybe they’ll get Game 5 at home, but this is fool’s gold, a mirage and it ought to make the Magic feel even sicker over the summer.
The Magic could’ve been a championship contender, but they’ll be remembered as flops and failures. They’ll be remembered for getting punked. Truth be told, the Celtics could’ve barely played worse. Rajon Rondo(notes) wasn’t himself. The Celtics’ offense was sluggish and sloppy. Too many errant passes, too many forced shots. Nevertheless, the Magic still had to go to overtime. They still needed Nelson to make two immense 3-pointers in the final minutes, needed Howard to go for a monstrous 32 points, 16 rebounds and four blocks
No, the Magic don’t get credit for Game 4. They get this question: Why now? Why the tease? Nor do they get to win Game 5, and declare that they salvaged the series by pushing it to six games. No one should let the Magic off that easy, because it is inexcusable the way they failed to honor their regular season, their talent.
Until they prove differently, these Magic are exactly a team that wanted to win one game and say it didn’t get swept. There’s still no explanation for that gutless Game 3 performance, for giving away Games 1 and 2 in Orlando.
“Yeah, you’ve got to play one game at a time, but you have to have a belief somewhere that you can win the series,” Van Gundy insisted. “Otherwise, there’s just not enough to sustain you and keep you in the game.”
That isn’t true, because the Celtics obliterated the Magic’s spirit with those victories in Orlando and everyone could see that on Saturday night in Boston. When it mattered most, the Magic backed down and quit. This wasn’t character on Monday night, just the Magic hanging around and stealing a game when the Celtics looked like they had the Los Angeles Lakers on their minds.
This wasn’t resolve out of the Magic, this was merely a stay of execution. Yes, someone asked Vince Carter where did that resolve come from, and the first word out of his mouth? “Within.”
Within what? Within the make-believe land where a $16 million-a-year player pretends he has the professional pride of his tiny point guard and monstrous center? There are no historic comebacks coming out of the Orlando Magic, no proving to the world why they never should have been counted out. The Magic had that chance in this series and it’s long gone now.
No validation in victory on Monday night, just indictment – just a shame that it took this long out of the Magic, that it never, ever should’ve come to this in the Eastern Conference finals.
- Vince Carter
- Orlando Magic