NBA: Magical season turns to misery
By Mike Bianchi
The Orlando Sentinel
BOSTON — All season long, the Orlando Magic's audacious mantra has been described by the raucous three-word rallying cry: "Championship or bust!"
Now, painfully, pitifully and pathetically, the motley motto has been relegated to these three woebegone words: "Don't get swept."
Everything else is all but gone now. The championship dreams. The spectacular regular season. The invigorating and invincible start to the playoffs.
Boston Celtics 94, Orlando Magic 71.
Dwight Howard: 7 points.7 rebounds.
Rashard Lewis: 4 points, 4 turnovers.
Coach Stan Van Gundy: "It starts with me. It's my job. I'm the coach of this team."
Forget about those "Blue and White Ignite" T-shirts the Magic have been giving away before home playoff games. With the Magic trailing this series by an historically insurmountable 3-0, the only thing left to say now is this: Blue and White, good night.
Sweep dreams, Magic.
Celtics star Paul Pierce referred to the Magic as "poodles" last season when they were playing the Lakers in the Finals. Now, he may have to update his description to "Chihuahua." And tell the person who hacked into Pierce's Twitter account to get out his cyber broom because the Magic are piled up next to the dust pan and ready to be swept into a tumultuous offseason where one question will be asked over and over again: "How did this happen?"
How did the red-hot Magic, coming off a sweep of the Atlanta Hawks in the second round of the playoffs, suddenly turn into the Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference finals? How could they come out in Game 3 — the most important, most desperate game of the playoffs — with all of the fire and fury of a beer-league softball team?
Several hours before tipoff at the morning shootaround Saturday, Magic guard J.J. Redick called Game 3, "the definition of a must-win."
Somewhere between the shootaround and the game itself, the Magic must have lost their dictionary. Must win? The Magic came out like a college team playing its first exhibition game against Athletes in Action.
"They outplayed us, outhustled and worked harder than us," Howard said. "Coach has done everything he could. This is not on the coach; this is on the players. ... There is no strategy for effort."
We ask again: How did this happen?
How did the Magic, in such a crucial game, allow the Celtics to play harder and want it more?
How did the Magic have two more turnovers than field goals in the opening 12 minutes and trail 27-12 after the first quarter? That's right, 12 points in the first quarter. Coed teams in the Catholic Youth League score more than 12 points in one quarter. Were these the Orlando Magic or the 10-and-under, all-girls South Orlando Dribbling Daisies?
Remember just last week when the Magic were the hottest team in the NBA? They had the best record in the NBA in the second half of the season, swept through the first two rounds of the playoffs and had won 14 straight games dating back more than a month.
"Five or six days ago, we were rolling, everybody was loving us, we were going to go to the finals," Redick said. "Now, everybody thinks we're done."
Correction, J.J.: Now, everybody knows you're done.
Sadly, everything the Magic have accomplished this season is going down the drain faster than the European economy. It's one thing for the Magic to get knocked out of the playoffs by a better team, but it's shameful for them to cower out of the playoffs like this. I'm not saying the Celtics totally dominated and intimidated them Saturday, but I think I saw the entire Magic team in the fetal position after the game, mumbling something like, "Mommy, please don't let the big green men hurt me anymore."
Let's go ahead and start the second-guessing now. Why wait? After such a demoralizing loss in such a disappointing series, everything now is fair game.
I'm not going to mention Rashard Lewis' contract — $118 million, $118 million, $118million, $118 million! — but he was again invisible in Game 3 just as he's been in the entire series. You wonder now if the Magic will ever be able to justify the inflated salary they paid him.
And what about bringing in Vince Carter to replace Hedo Turkoglu, the player who made so many clutch plays in leading the Magic to the finals last year? Carter clanged two crucial free throws at the end of Game 2 and was mostly invisible in Saturday night's debacle, too. Conclusion: Maybe the Magic should have taken their chances with Turk.
And does this team have the mentality to win a championship? Where was the leadership of Van Gundy and his two captains — Howard and Jameer Nelson — Saturday night? How could they allow their team to come out so woefully uninspired and ill-prepared?
We could go on and on, but why bother?
It's too depressing and too painful.
Blue and White, turn out the lights.
All that's left to say about the Magic is this:
At least try to leave your fans and yourselves with at least a smidgeon of self-respect.
Don't get swept.