Right now, the Orlando Magic are the second best team in the Eastern Conference. In the standings.
But would anybody pick them to beat the Boston Celtics in a seven game series? Which is the likely second-round matchup in the East, by the way. The Magic beat the Celtics by two points on their home court, on a night when Kevin Garnett only played 17 minutes. And it was a night where Boston played some of its worst defense on the pick and roll (staring Dwight Howard and Rafer Alston) it has played in a couple of seasons.
Plus, it was a game where Dwight Howard went off. Even the most die-hard of Celtics fans is not about to tell you Kendrick Perkins is the kryptonite to Howard’s Superman, but he and the Celtics as a team can do a better job on him. Say, working to deny him passes or double his with Garnett. He’s not going to shoot 11 of 18 against the Celtics every night.
And in a game in Boston, Paul Pierce would have gotten the foul call on his drive with 10 seconds left.
However, the three paragraphs above sum up the list of excuses the Celtics have had for their play of late. Just wait until we get healthy. We got bad calls from the referees. When things matter in the playoffs the Celtics will be ready, these games don’t matter much.
But the final stretch leading up to the playoffs is when those excuses need to go out the window. Title teams don’t make excuses. And if the Celtics are to win another, they need to stop.
The Magic are not making excuses, but they also are not the same with the solid Rafer Alston at the point as they were with the dynamic Jameer Nelson.
And the Magic lack the big go-to guy with the game on the line. The Cavaliers have LeBron. The Lakers have Kobe. The Celtics have Pierce. With two minutes left in a close game last night the Magic twice threw the ball into Howard, who took two off-balance 10-foot hook shots that missed. After that it was bombs away from three point range for Hedo Turkoglu. That is not how you close out games.
That is not how you win a big best out of seven in the playoffs, Unless the Celtics are just planning to keep using their excuses.