Demise came very quickly

By Barbara Matson
Globe Correspondent / May 29, 2010

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Magic coach Stan Van Gundy nearly described the fate of his team before the game began. In the ritual pregame chat with members of the media last night, Van Gundy insisted that NBA games are won in the first quarter.

“Look it up,’’ he insisted. “The team that’s ahead after the first quarter wins the game.’’

An hour later, Van Gundy’s Magic took the court at TD Garden to try to extend their remarkable comeback in the Eastern Conference finals with a third straight victory over the Celtics after three losses.

But Van Gundy’s definition of the NBA as a first-quarter league soon left his team in a predicament; it stumbled at the start while the Celtics were roiling with energy. While holding Orlando to 38 percent shooting and 19 points in the first quarter, the Celtics knocked down 30 points, shooting 47.4 percent. Orlando never recovered and the Celtics walked away with the 96-84 victory, claiming the series, four games to two.

“It’s a first-quarter league and we got off to a bad start,’’ Van Gundy said. “I thought early on we were OK, we just didn’t make shots, and then we let it get to us, and we broke down.

“We didn’t move the ball well and when we did get open shots, we didn’t make anything. I thought their energy was better than ours in the first half.’’

While Paul Pierce led the Celtics with 31 points, Nate Robinson turned the game on end. He replaced point guard Rajon Rondo at the start of the second quarter, and his energy was electric, hitting a pair of 3-pointers while sparking a 16-6 run. The Magic were gone.

“Nate Robinson was huge in the first half,’’ said Van Gundy. “That was a huge, huge lift for them to have [13] points in the first half.’’

Van Gundy added that Ray Allen made the Celtics’ victory a sure thing when he nailed a pair of 3-pointers to open the second half. “We’d come from 20-plus down to 13,’’ said Van Gundy. “He knocks down two threes and gets it to 19, it gives them a huge cushion.’’

The Magic’s sluggish start was the beginning of their end.

“The first quarter of every game turned out to be the deciding factor,’’ said Orlando center Dwight Howard, who led his team with 28 points and 12 rebounds. “They came out and won the first quarter, and they won the game. They started good and they finished the same. It’s about how they started.’’

Said Van Gundy, “You’ve got to be ready at the start. It’s not like you can’t come back. Certainly if it’s 25-24, comebacks happen; but you’re [down] double figures, at the end of the first quarter, and that one I don’t have an answer to.’’

Howard said he never stopped fighting, but the Magic’s teamwork fell to pieces as the score got away from them.

“They made a run and we stopped playing our game,’’ said Howard. “Everybody wanted to do it on their own. That’s not what got us back to Game 6. In a situation like this, we’ve got to keep playing together.

“I just tried to do my part, just keep fighting. It’s very tough. We’ve got to learn from our mistakes. It just didn’t happen.’’

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