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Wait what? The Celtics? Weren’t they eliminated Sunday night? Didn’t we hear that Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett and Kendrick Perkins all may need surgery on separate injuries?
Yes, you heard all that. You even heard that the Magic “were the better team” in their Round 2 match-up with the Celtics. That may be true, but if they had instead faced the Bulls, who they would’ve beaten as well, they wouldn’t have a chance against the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals.
After surviving the Celtics in the second round, the Magic went into Cleveland’s Gund Arena, a place the Cavs went 39-2 in during the regular season and 4-0 in the playoffs, and knocked off the Cavs 107-106 in Game 1 to steal home-court advantage and give themselves a fighting chance in the series.
Now, I’m not writing off the Cavaliers just yet, as I still think they’ll win this series, but it’s nice to see Cleveland actually face a bit of a problem. The league’s MVP, LeBron James, scored 49 points and it was not enough. His team led 63-48 at the half, and it was not enough. Mo Williams hit a 75-foot shot at the buzzer before the half, and despite Cleveland’s absurd celebrating, it was not enough to get the job done.
Orlando didn’t learn how to win a game like that overnight. If they faced the Bulls in Round 2, they would’ve probably won in five or six games without too much trouble. Despite Chicago’s resiliency, they had to be out of gas too. They did not have enough talent to overcome the fatigue, and would’ve faltered. It also doesn’t mean much for Orlando in beating a young, untested squad. Beating the defending NBA Champion Celtics, however, means a great deal.
The Magic learned a lot about themselves in the Celtics series. They learned how to completely blow a game and still win (Game 1), how to get blown out and blow someone out (Games 2 and 3), how to completely blow a game and lose (Games 4 and 5), and how to win when your back is against the wall (Games 6 and 7). What does Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals qualify as?
Well, the Magic had their backs against the wall entering the series. They were facing the daunting task of beating the league’s most cohesive team (Cleveland) on a court they had only lost twice all season. The Cavs already went 8-0 in the playoffs, winning each game by double digits. So, I’d say the Magic have won their third straight game with their backs against the wall.
To be honest, they have their backs against the wall in Game 2 of the East Finals as well. LeBron and the rest of his cronies will be fired up after being embarassed in their own arena in Game 1. My guess is that the Cavs will even the series, but I also would’ve guessed that Orlando wouldn’t win Game 1. They won Game 1, however, and if they win Game 2, the series is theirs to lose, much to the chagrin of the NBA (who are still salivating over a possible Kobe vs. LeBron NBA Finals).