It's the Magic who triumph in Game 7 at Garden as Celtics disappear
The Celtics could not get their Game 7 mojo working last night.
The Magic took a 101-82 victory in the deciding contest of their Eastern Conference semifinal series, the Celtics' fourth-quarter collapse providing a graphic example of their overachieving nature since losing Kevin Garnett to injury in March.
Dwight Howard (12 points, 16 rebounds) and Hedo Turkoglu (25 points, 12 assists) led the way for Orlando, which became the first team to overcome a 3-2 deficit in a best-of-seven series against the Celtics. The Celtics dropped to 20-6 in Game 7s and 32-1 in series in which they held a 3-2 lead.
Ray Allen (23 points) regained his shooting touch, but his teammates struggled, the Celtics appearing to have burned out following a 62-20 regular season and a first-round playoff series that included a league-record seven overtime sessions against Chicago.
"Obviously, it looked like it," coach Doc Rivers said of the fatigue factor. "Every shot was front rim, every free throw was off, we were slow to get to the basket. That could have been a factor. It looked like [it], but I don't know. We just didn't have it."
The Celtics season concluded in a surreal atmosphere, Allen and Paul Pierce (16 points) departing with 2:30 remaining, joining Garnett (right knee) on the bench as fans exited and TD Banknorth Garden grew quiet.
Orlando, which will meet Cleveland in the Eastern Conference finals, set the tone early, hitting their first two treys and going 9 for 12 from the field in taking a 22-9 lead. Of the Magic's first nine field goals, there were four 3-pointers, three Howard dunks, and two open jumpers by Rafer Alston.
"They made the two threes, and you could see them get up, it made them feel like they can make shots," Rivers said. "I thought Turkoglu and Alston set the tone early with dribble penetration and shots. We knew what the keys to winning this series were - dribble penetration. And we never controlled it and that allowed them to get everything they wanted.
"I'm really proud of my team. Clearly, we didn't play well. I thought we had the right spirit. We missed layups, we missed free throws. But, I told them it's my ninth, 10th year, I don't know how many years this is coaching, and this is one of my favorite groups, as far as how they fought. There were a lot of reasons for them to give up without Kevin and Leon [Powe], and they never did."
The Celtics rallied within 3 points early in the second half and trailed by 5 after three quarters.
After a Glen Davis free throw cut the deficit to 45-42 1:47 into the second half, Orlando quickly stretched its lead to 10.
Rajon Rondo closed the quarter with two foul shots and a buzzer-beating jumper on the edge of the 3-point line to cut the deficit to 66-61.
"That could have been a dagger, but I don't think our guys ever had that thought," Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy said of Rondo's shot.
Then, the Magic clinched the result with a strong start to the final quarter. Orlando had a 13-1 run over a 2:29 span, completing three 3-point possessions (a Mickael Pietrus 3-pointer at the shot-clock buzzer and drives by Courtney Lee and Turkoglu), going ahead, 79-62, on a Howard foul shot.
The Celtics appeared to have little in reserve. Though they had rallied in similar situations several times this season, they simply could not close the gap.
Davis converted the first Celtics field goal of the final quarter 3:26 in but Pietrus restored the 17-point lead with a back-door layup.
But Orlando increased its edge on Turkoglu's second-chance free throws with 7:26 left, and a Rashard Lewis low-post move following two missed free throws by Pierce.
Allen sank a 3-pointer to give the Celtics one last chance, cutting the deficit to 12 with 4:20 to go, but the Magic answered with an 11-0 run.
"Their intentions were great, and that's all you can ask for as a coach," Rivers said of his team. "It's a must-win for both teams. And, you just don't have it, and we didn't have it.
"I mean, we searched all game for any combination to give us a lift. And we just couldn't find it."
Frank Dell'Apa can be reached at email@example.com.