Game 3 - Eastern Conference Finals
Celtics 94, Orlando 71 - Celtics lead series, 3-0
The Boston Celtics took four games and three quarters to make LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers quit. Now, one series later, they needed only two games and three quarters to make the Orlando Magic fold like a cheap tent.
While it's beyond embarrassing that the Eastern Conference's top two seeds - loaded with highly-salaried players and acquisitions counted on to deliver a world championship - have so nakedly wimped out this May, it also has to be said that the Boston Celtics have played a large role in making them wilt. Teams don't quit unless they get overwhelmed by an opponent. They don't lose their appetite for battle unless their adversary comes strong and punches them in the mouth with unexpected vigor and regularity.
That's what the Celtics did to Cleveland in the second round of the playoffs, and that's what they've done to Orlando in less than three full games. On Saturday night at TD Garden in Boston, the issue had been decided by the end of the third quarter. Before the final stanza of Game 3 had even begun, the Magic had announced their refusal to compete.
The series - which must still stage a Game 4 on Monday - is effectively over. That's mighty surprising stuff, considering that the consensus pre-series pick was "Magic in six." Improbably yet undeniably, the verdict on this best-of-seven battle is that the Celtics have won it... in only three games. After two deceptively close contests in Florida, the C's - not a great home team this season (18 losses including the playoffs) - made their new "Garden" an oasis of comfort. They maxed out at the defensive end of the floor and made Orlando pack up its bags in shamefully premature fashion.
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How superb was the defense thrown at the Magic by coach Doc Rivers and his guru, assistant Tom Thibodeau? Boston's rotations and timely double-teams held Orlando to just 12 points in the first quarter and 13 in the third. The Celtics endured long stretches of what could fairly be called listless, aimless offense in the second quarter, but Orlando's offensive impotence rendered that fact irrelevant. The Magic's team-wide refusal to take the ball hard to the basket resulted in a parade of contested threes. Coach Stan Van Gundy's group didn't make any adjustments at all from the first two games of this series. Given that the Magic were down 2-0 entering the weekend, the lack of countermoves represented a sad commentary on a team and coaching staff that have been paralyzed by the Celtics' single-minded aggression.
It's worth noting that Boston's offensive output on Saturday was hardly special. The C's averaged 93.5 points for the series coming into this game, and posted 94. It was Orlando's production which plummeted. The Magic averaged 90 points in Games 1 and 2, but they tallied just 47 points through three quarters and barely inched past the 70 mark in garbage time in Game 3. Because of the Celtics' continued ability to play Dwight Howard one-on-one, the Magic's 3-point shooters - Rashard Lewis, J.J. Redick, and Mickael Pietrus - were once again blanketed. The trio that hit so many crucial shots in last year's run to the NBA Finals mustered only 4 threes in 12 attempts. Orlando hit eight treys in this contest, but at the expense of 30 shots. In other words, the Magic were hoping and hoisting. The Celtics, powered by six double-figure scorers in a blended display, were busy playing basketball and not taking possessions off.
Game 4 is next. Don't expect a Game 5 in a series the Celtics have dominated since the opening tap last Sunday in Orlando.
Pro Basketball Fans Senior Staff Writer
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