Eastern Conference Finals

I have only now found time to recap the Boston Celtics/Orlando Magic series from the Eastern Conference Finals and we are already two games in to the Finals.  My life is as busy as the Magic front office staff must be, as they try to figure out how their season fell apart after putting all of their resources in to winning this season. From Dwight Howard’s limited offensive game to Vince Carter’s tendency to disappear in big games, Orlando was doomed from the start against a Celtics team rolling on all cylinders.  Keep reading to see how Boston nullified the Magic’s game plan.

Before this series started, I had no doubt that the Celtics would beat the Magic.

The Magic play a simple inside/outside game.  They control games by keeping their opponent on their heels.  If their opponent doubles down on Dwight it frees up the shooters and this also creates mismatches from defensive rotations.  If they don’t double Dwight, he uses his athleticism to get around and over whoever is guarding him, leading to high percentage dunks and lay-ups.  If they use up their fouls on Dwight, the Magic switch to a pick and roll game in which they are very effective due to the spacing their shooters create.  If I were an opposing coach, I would not get a lot of sleep before a game against the Magic.

The Celtics have been winning with their defence and, due to one player, they match up very well with the Magic on that end of the floor.  Kendrick Perkins, the beefy Boston centre, plays Dwight one on one better than anybody which completely disrupts the offence which the Magic have relied on all season.  Using his big body and low centre of gravity to keep Dwight out of the paint, Perkins continually forced Dwight in to bad shots and by playing him one on one, allowed the Celtic wings to stick with the shooters. The Magic shot poorly the entire series, well below their season averages from both the field and three point range, and this was due to Perkins ability to keep Dwight out of the paint without needing help defenders.

Due to Dwight Howard’s limited offensive game from outside of three feet, the Magic GM Otis Smith pulled off a blockbuster trade in the off-season, bringing Vince Carter to Florida. He was the final piece of the puzzle. The savior who would lead the Magic to the franchises first championship. When he came in to the league, Carter was an athletic specimen with an array of unstoppable offensive moves which allowed him to score at will. This was not the same Vince Carter. Throughout the season and especially in the Playoffs, he relied too much on his outside shot, seemingly afraid to attempt to beat his man off the dribble or enter the painted area. The Magic fans watched in disgust all series as Carter launched bad three after bad three, most with a hand in his face as he faded away. Even when he did take it to the hole, he seemed unsure of himself and often forced a bad shot or turned it over. He didn’t look at all like a saviour. He looked like a washed up bum who shot his team out of the series.

With the Magics two best players, Dwight Howard and Vince Carter, unable to buy a bucket all series, the Magic had to rely on their defence to have any chance of prevailing. Two things got in the way of this. Fouls and heart.

The Magic played an intimidating team defense all season long. With the Defensive Player of the Year, Dwight Howard, locking up the paint, the Magic wings could play “in your face” defense knowing that if they got beat, Howard would be there to block or alter shots. Doc Rivers ordered his troops to take it to the hole hard and draw fouls on Howard, which they did at will. With Dwight leaving his feet on most drives, it was easy for the savvy Celtics to create body contact and draw the foul. Howard’s minutes were way down on his season average as he spent so much time on the bench in foul trouble. The Magic team defense joined him there and the Celtics would take advantage, going on runs and building leads which the Magic could not recover from. With the Magic big man on the bench, you would assume the other Magic players would step op their intensity. This never happened. Apart from the two games they won, Orlando seemed listless and beaten, showing no heart or fight. They didn’t dive for loose balls, didn’t battle for inside position or rebounds and they let the Celtics do whatever they wanted to on offense. Against a hungry, determined Celtic team, the Magic looked like a high school team and never looked like winning the series.

The Magic have some talented players and looked like a championship calibre team during the regular season. Unfortunately they lack the one ingredient which separates all champions from the rest of the pack. Heart. Dwight Howard looked confused and timid all series. Vince Carter lived up to his reputation as someone who disappears in big games and the entire Magic roster lacked hustle, desire and grit. Against a Celtics team with just as much talent on it’s roster, this series came down to the old cliché of who wanted it more. With the Celtics now playing the Lakers in the Finals, the answer is obvious.

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