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Finally! It took four games, but the Boston Celtics second-round series with the Orlando Magic is no longer looking like a severe letdown.
Most basketball fans have had the series circled since mid-April, when the Cleveland Cavaliers clinched the best record in the Eastern conference, and put Boston and Orlando, the teams with the third- and fourth-best records in the NBA this year, on a collision course for a second-round matchup. The anticipation was heightened when the Celtics played an epic seven-game series against the Chicago Bulls in the first round that featured one transcendent play after another and a record four games that required overtime to settle the score.
However, before Sunday, the Magic and Celtics had failed to live up to the billing. Two of the first three games were desultory blowouts, and the first game of the series, a 95-90 Magic win, was only close at the end.
Then came Sunday night’s close, hard-fought drama. By now, you probably know that the Celtics won 95-94 on a buzzer beating shot by Glen “Big Baby” Davis. And that isn’t the half of it.
For one, Davis scored five of the Celtics last six points, including a jump shot from the elbow to give the Cs a 93-92 lead with 31 seconds to go. In fact, Davis’ two baskets in the final minute of the game were the only Celtics field goals in the last seven minutes of the game. Yet Orlando’s shutdown of the Boston offense wasn’t the major defensive story: The big news was how thoroughly the Celtics clamped down on the Magic. Following Game 3 on Friday, when the Magic shot 59.1 percent in a 117-96 romp, the Celtics held Orlando to an ice-cold 40 percent (34-85), and in a one-point win, every miss mattered.
The Celtics adopted a daring strategy in which the Boston defenders played a step back from their man, ceding the outside shot, often a three-pointer, in favor of preventing drives to the lane. That is where Boston, their front-court thinned by injuries to all-star forward Kevin Garnett and key reserve Leon Powe, knew they would be vulnerable. Against most teams, this is a sensible strategy, but the Magic were second in the league this season in most three-pointers attempted per game and seventh in accuracy. Yet, the strategy worked; Orlando shot 5-27 from downtown. If they shot 6-27, the Magic would be one win away from their first trip to the Eastern conference finals in 13 years.
Instead, this series is tied at two wins each, and the anticipation for Game 5 Tuesday night in Boston and Game 6 on Thursday in Orlando couldn’t be higher. Boston’s win capped a dramatic day in the NBA.