ORLANDO, Fla. -- The phrase the Big Three has a whole new meaning in the Celtics' Eastern Conference playoff series with the Orlando Magic, and it's not good if you're Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen or anyone else associated with the Celtics.
After going down three games to none in this Eastern Conference Finals series, the Orlando Magic were the longest of long shots, a half-court heave of hope. Now, their chance of succeeding where 93 previous NBA outfits have come up short has been metaphorically reduced to about the odds of sinking a 3-pointer.
Fitting. Long shots are what has allowed Orlando to extend this series to a sixth game, and in the process turn the tables and put the Celtics in must-win mode for tomorrow night's Game 6.
As much as the focus has been on Dwight Howard's muscle in the middle -- and he had another magnificent game with 21 points, 10 rebounds and 5 blocks -- the Magic are a perimeter-partial group. Howard can flex and preen and throw errant elbows in the paint to intimidate and entertain, but it's beyond the arc that the Magic are pocking holes in the Celtics' vaunted defense.
The Magic turned Amway Arena into bombs-away arena last night, connecting on 13 of 25 3-pointers, their highest 3-point percentage in the playoffs, as they shot the Celtics into submission with a 113-92 win. Last night's long-distance display came on the heels of Wednesday night's near-miss for the Celtics, a game in which Orlando buried 10 treys in 28 attempts, the last two of which were overtime daggers by Jameer Nelson, who followed up his 23-point night on the parquet with a 24-point evening in front of the home folks.
This sequence sums up the state of the series. In the third quarter, with the Celtics having trimmed a 12-point lead to 71-65, Nelson drained a 28-foot 3-pointer with Rajon Rondo in his face as the 24-second shot clock expired.
After Nelson's shot you knew the momentum possession arrow in the series belonged to the Magic.
"Huge, huge," said Orlando forward Matt Barnes, who had three 3-pointers in four attempts last night. "Big-time players make big-time shots. We got a team full of shooters, and we're starting to play our game."
And the Celtics need to stop them before this goes any further than Friday.
Stan Van Gundy's guys are 7-0 in these playoffs when they make 10 or more threes. Orlando loves to launch. They led the NBA this season in threes attempted and made, and their 841 3-pointers was a new NBA single-season record.
"We know they're going to shoot open threes, and we know they're going to shoot challenged threes," said Pierce. "We got to make them put it on the ground."
The Celtics said coming into the series that stopping the three was their No. 1 priority, and they shooed Magic shooters away from the line in the first three games.
Now, with the Celtics chasing Nelson on the pick and roll, Magic shooters are practically setting up shop beyond the arc. That's a problem and the Celtics know it.
"They shot over 50 percent from the 3-point line and you can't beat that team doing that," said Garnett. "You have to take away the threes."
Look, the Celtics have plenty of problems stemming from this ill-fated trip to Central Florida. Kendrick Perkins's technical difficulties and ensuing early exit doubled with the possibility of a one-game suspension, the concussion that left Glen "Big Baby" Davis stumbling and staggering across the court like he had just left The Fours, and a back twinge that cast a pall on the best thing in Green last night, the team-high 21-point night for Rasheed Wallace (who seemed oddly inspired by the fact the Celtics were getting worked over by the Magic, their fans and the officials).
But all of the above are things the Celtics can't control. What they can control is how they defend Orlando at the 3-point line. They did a great job in Games 1-3, holding the Magic to 20 of 70 in the first three games. Now, stopping Orlando from beyond the arc seems beyond their reach and the series is suddenly in Orlando's.
"I think it's been real big," said Barnes of the 3-pointer. "I think the first few games they were so focused on letting Dwight beat them and running us off the line. Now, that Dwight is rolling I think they're paying a little bit more attention to him and we surround him with four guys who can knock down the three, so it's kind of like pick your poison."
The third time better be the charm for the Celtics when it comes to closing out this series because they want no part of returning to Orlando. Magic supporters are banking on spending Sunday with the Celtics.
A group of Orlando fans held up a sign that read "C-U-On Sunday," with a Magic logo used as the dashes. While grammatically incorrect, the sign might be prophetic. But just to hammer home the point the Orlando public address announcer closed the game by informing the fans when Game 6 was and saying, "We look forward to Game 7 Sunday right here."
Of course, only three teams in NBA history have rallied from a 3-0 hole to force a seventh game -- the 1993-94 Denver Nuggets, the 2002-03 Portland Trailblazers and the 1950-51 New York Knicks. The Celtics want to keep it that way.
"We know we're going to get their best effort," said Barnes. "We still got to come out and keep with our game plan, hit them first. They're in trouble if they let us come back here for Game 7."
Barnes is right because the Magic are beginning to believe that coming back from a 3-0 deficit is just like shooting threes. It's a long shot they're capable of making.
...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.