Ten thoughts from a Game 4 that featured the impossible -- several Magic players actually make eye contact with Stan Van Gundy during the pregame speech. Should have known the Celtics were in trouble at that point.
1. Maybe expecting a sweep over a team that won 59 games in the regular season and was 8-0 in the first two rounds of the playoffs was too much, but I still submit that Orlando 96, Boston 92 (OT) was as big a surprise as there has been in the playoffs this year. I thought that the Magic would come out and give a decent account for a half or so. Figured the Celtics might be a little sluggish, but that they would get into "We are not getting on a plane to Orlando tomorrow" mode and pull away late third/early fourth. I had 3:56 in the fourth quarter in the Geno pool, if that's any indication.
So Orlando 55, Boston 49 with 9:22 left in the third quarter wasn't a galloping shock. The Magic were doing a reasonable impression of a 59-win team while the Celtics were doing a reasonable impression of the team that won exactly half of their final 54 regular-season games. But after a Kevin Garnett-Dwight Howard push-fest, a Paul Pierce jumper, a Ray Allen dunk and a KG 16-footer the lead was one with 8:06 left in the third. Time out, Magic and for the first time all night the Garden was loud, the Celtics were inspired and it seemed the perfect time for the Magic to be content with the knowledge that they at least showed up. A collision course with an 90-80 kind of final was inevitable.
But it never happened. And a team that quit just 48 hours earlier did enough to stay alive. The Celtics did plenty to help Orlando get to 3-1, but give the Magic credit for showing some pride. On the motivation chart I had "Chance to win Eastern Conference title at home and get a week of rest" over "Stay of execution." Guess I was wrong, because save for a few spurts the Celtics had very little focus in Game 4 and the Magic were playing with some serious resolve. I'd think a little more of the Magic if they had played like this in Game 3 (when they still had a legitimate chance in the series) but they still have a pulse, at least.
Big picture, this loss isn't a game-changer. Everyone would have signed for a 3-1 lead before the series started, and winning seven in a row against the two hottest teams in the league entering the playoffs was probably not a fair request. The failure to close is troubling, but a win on Wednesday and all is quickly forgotten. A loss, though, and things will be pretty tight at the Garden for Game 6.
2. Listen, Paul Pierce was terrific again in Game 4 (32 points,) but when is Doc going to stop with the "give it to Pierce and make sure the other four guys stand around" offense in the last couple of minutes of the fourth quarter? Brutal final two possessions of regulation. If you've watched this team over the years you can see it coming, especially in games when Pierce is shooting well. It sure seemed like Rajon Rondo seemed miffed with Pierce after the final play of the fourth quarter. How can you not get a shot off when you have the ball with 17 seconds left in a tie game? Apparently the play was supposed to be a pick-and-roll with Pierce and Ray Allen, but it didn't seem to me that Pierce was too interested in that happening. It's great that Pierce wants to be the guy, but that doesn't mean that he has to take every single big shot. Nobody does that, not even Michael Jordan. Just ask John Paxson.
3. Have to give Rondo (nine points on 3-of-10 shooting) a pass, right? He's earned the right to have a stinkeroo. Totally outplayed by Jameer Nelson in Game 4. A lot of folks thought that matchup would be close to a wash heading into the series. Well, we saw why on Monday as Nelson showed how disruptive he can be when he can A) get to the paint (setting up open 3-pointers as well as the lobs to Howard) and B) make a few jumpers. As good as Howard was in Game 4 the performance from Nelson (who had done NOTHING in Games 1-3) was just as important to the win.
4. And if you are in the "Rajon Rondo is the only indispensable player on the Celtics" camp Monday night would fall into the further proof category. Pierce was brilliant, Ray Allen had 22 points and Garnett had a 14-12 line. But Rondo was awful, nowhere near the player that has carried them for the first two-plus rounds. Seems to me that the Celtics can win on the road in the playoffs without Garnett, get past the Cavs with very little offense from Pierce and survive when Allen has one of those off nights in the life of a jump shooter (Game 6 vs. the Cavs, Game 2 vs. the Magic.) Rondo is the one guy on this team that has to play well for the Celtics to win at this stage of the postseason.
5. How much better has J.J. Redick been than Vince Carter in this series? Vince's line in Game 4 -- 1-of-9 from the floor, three points, two rebound and two assists in 31 minutes -- is exactly the same as Scott Howard's from the game in the opening scene of Teen Wolf. And did Jeff Van Gundy really say that he thought Vince should take the last shot for the Magic in regulation?
6. Can we all admit that we missed the old Rasheed Wallace? Even though we've read and been told for the last couple of weeks that playoff time is when the real 'Sheed shows up, I just knew that we'd get a cameo from Regular Season Rasheed at some point. And 2-of-7 from the floor (all four 3-point attempts missed) in 13 minutes is a good enough on its own, but the utter lack of effort on defense is really what pushed it from "John Houseman in Silver Spoons" into the "Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross" level of cameos. And that's forgetting the technical foul he picked up in the fourth quarter. Not a big deal in a game that went into overtime, what's a point here and a point there?
7. I'm always surprised when Glen Davis makes a key play, and I don't know why. Well, that's not true, I know why, but he's made enough by now that I should get past the way he looks and focus on what he does. How about this four-minute stretch in the fourth quarter? Davis beat two Magic to long rebound off a Wallace miss, took a charge on Vince Carter, scored a couple of baskets (one on a screen-and-roll, the other a 20-footer) and blocked a shot in the paint by Rashard Lewis. Good move by Doc to stick with Big Baby for the fourth quarter, but I thought it was a mistake to go back to Perkins for overtime. The lack of energy with Davis out of the game was evident. Wallace and Tony Allen are hit or miss, but Davis is the one bench guy that needs to play serious minutes each game. He simply makes things happen.
8. Dwight Howard needed this game. Now, if the Magic lose by 20 on Wednesday no one is going to remember 32-16 from Howard in Game 4, but it showed that he isn't going home without a fight. I didn't know if that was going to be the case two days ago. We all know that his post game is more Kevin Arnold than Kevin McHale and that his free throw shooting borders on the unwatchable, but he was every bit a franchise player in Game 4, a game which if he was anything short of great the Magic season is toast today.
9. How about Rashard Lewis leaving Ray Allen wide-open for that 3-pointer in OT so he could give Howard help with Big Baby? How many ways does that demonstrate a low Basketball IQ? Somewhere Billy Packer is sleeping, but if was awake he would have been disgusted, trust me. I mean, why does the two-time Defensive Player of the Year need help in the post with Glen Davis? And there might -- might be five shooters in NBA history that you would choose to take a wide-open three before Allen, but there aren't 10. Plus up six points with 1:13 left in OT the last thing you want is to give up a 3-pointer. Point is I don't think Rashard is going to be named player-coach should Stan get the boot.
10. This isn't the Collapse of the TD Garden Tenant, Part II. The truth about the Bruins is that they weren't that good. Hockey allows the occasional fluke, more so than the NBA. The Celtics handled the first three games of the series. And in Game 4 they were sloppy, looked bored at times and were playing a team that showed a fire that was missing over the last eight days. And guess what? The Celtics still had the ball and a chance to win at the end of regulation. I'm not willing to even consider the possibility of blowing a 3-0 edge until the Magic have a lead in the fourth quarter of Game 6. Until then it's all Lakers prep and debating if this team is as good as the 2008 group.