Magic comeback? Don't bet on it
The Magic stayed alive in this series with a 96-92 OT win in Game 4
An extended comeback will rely on Jameer Nelson, Dwight Howard
Sixth man J.J. Redick will be an x-factor with his consistent play lately
ORLANDO -- Is this series about to deliver on its great expectations?
Ask the Orlando Magic. After producing a trio of stinkers to trail the underdog Celtics 3-0 in the Eastern finals, the Magic responded at long last with a heartfelt performance to win Game 4 in overtime 96-92 Monday.
It wasn't their best game, and so they hope it serves as bridge to a Game 5 of continued hard play and better execution Wednesday. The Magic won by holding Boston to 42.1-percent shooting, even as Orlando was giving the ball away 19 times. "We still have to find a way to cut the turnovers against a very good defense," said Magic coach Stan Van Gundy. "But we said there's never going to be a time where it's easy to score on these guys. So you're going to have to do it with your defense and rebounding."
The opening minutes may reveal the outcome, as the winner of each first quarter has prevailed in every game of this series. The Celtics will need better ball movement than they demonstrated in Game 4, when they failed to create more assists than Orlando for the first time this series (19 for each team).
They'll hope also for better health from point guard Rajon Rondo, who had his least productive game of the playoffs with eight assists and nine points on 10 shots. He was troubled by muscle spasms in his right leg and could neither fight through screens nor pierce the Magic defense as the Celtics were outscored 36-28 in the paint. His matchup with Magic point guard Jameer Nelson had been viewed at the opening of the series as crucial to the outcome, and Game 5 may yet come down to those two based on the spirited showing by Nelson, who overcame six turnovers in Game 4 by attacking all night and making big threes down the stretches of regulation and OT.
The foundation for any extended Magic comeback in this series will be provided by Nelson and Dwight Howard, who had a magnificent 32 points, 16 rebounds and four blocks and could put a huge scare in Boston by maintaining that intimidating level of play. They'll also continue to rely on sixth man J.J. Redick, who has played in high gear while averaging 11.5 points and shooting 53.8 percent from the arc in these finals. "He's their most consistent player in this series,'' said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "He's been phenomenal against us. We keep losing sight of him."
"We talked about playing with more effort and a sense of desperation," explained Redick of the Magic turnaround. "We could have quit, and there were some times during the game [Monday] where we could have gave in, but we didn't. We talked about it even after: This is not a team that wants to just win one game and say 'All right, we didn't get swept.' We want to win the series.
"There wasn't a lot of rah-rah, there wasn't a lot of rhetoric, there wasn't a lot of clichés going around the locker room. I could sense we were ready to play. It wasn't about yelling at guys. It was let's go out and play and be who we are."
Is there more than they've shown? After Rashard Lewis had totaled 15 points over the previous three games, he scored 13 in Game 4 to hint at his revival in this series. Now, if Vince Carter could give the Magic anything close to his seasonal average of 16.6 points -- as opposed to the measly three he scored Monday while going 1-for-9 with three turnovers -- they could create hope for an unprecedented comeback.
But don't count on it.