By John Schuhmann, NBA.com
Posted May 23 2010 1:36AM
BOSTON -- Such has been the way of these playoffs, especially when you face the Boston Celtics. The ending comes quick, though not so painless.
First, it was the Miami Heat, who had a great second half of the season and looked like the one lower seed in the Eastern Conference that could pull off a first round upset. Three games into the postseason, they were preparing their "We Want Wade" campaign.
Then came the Cavs, winners of 61 games and the No. 1 overall seed who waxed the Celtics in Game 3 of the conference semifinals to take a 2-1 series lead. Three games later, their season was over among a flood of criticism and speculation.
Surely the Orlando Magic wouldn't go out like that.
Like Cleveland, Orlando had serious dreams of winning a championship. After a surprise run to the Finals, they reloaded and went way over the luxury tax to put together a deeper, more versatile roster.
Though the Cavs had the better record, the Magic were the best team in basketball after Jan. 1. They were both the second best offensive team and the second best defensive team in the league this season. Through the first two rounds of the playoffs, they were the best team on both ends of the floor, dismissing the Charlotte Bobcats and Atlanta Hawks without mercy.
And now, three games later, the run is suddenly over. The Magic, charging toward the Finals, have run straight into a green brick wall before they could get there. Technically, this series isn't done, but essentially it is. Maybe someday an NBA team will come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a playoff series, but it won't be the team that scored just 71 points in Game 3 on Saturday.
The prevailing them coming out of the Magic locker room after Game 3 was that they just haven't been themselves in this series.
"All season long I don't think there's been a game where the other team outplayed us, outhustled us, and just worked harder than us," Howard said. "They did that for the last three games. And that's why they're ahead."
Certainly, the Celtics deserve a lot of the credit for making the Magic look so bad. Boston is playing great basketball on both ends of the floor. But Game 3 was as much about effort as execution. Orlando's season was on the line Saturday, and they came out flat.
This was a team that played with brains and muscle all season long. But on this night, their heart was tested, and their pulse was faint. They simply got outworked by a team that didn't need this game nearly as much as they did.
And that's all it takes for the shine to come off what was a great year. This is the NBA, where there's one champion and 29 failures. And no matter what you do in the regular season or the early rounds of the playoffs, you are judged by the way your season ends.
The questions surrounding Dwight Howard started after he struggled in Game 1. The questions surrounding Rashard Lewis came when he had just four baskets through Game 2. The questions surrounding Vince Carter ... geez, they date back to May of 2001.
When the Celtics eventually put the Magic out of their misery, likely Tuesday in Game 4, how will we look back on this team? And how do they go forward?
Magic coach Stan Van Gundy tried to shoulder the blame after Game 3.
"It starts with me. It's my job. I'm the coach of this team," Van Gundy said. "I'm not happy with where I had our team tonight, anything about what I did, my plan, any adjustments, anything."
Certainly, some of the responsibility for this 3-0 deficit lies with the coach. But he wasn't the one, down 17 points, getting outhustled by Rajon Rondo on a loose ball. He wasn't the one a step slow on every defensive possession. And he wasn't the one turning the ball over 17 times.
Van Gundy will go back to the film, searching for answers. But there really aren't any. His team is simply getting outplayed, somewhat shockingly considering the way they played over the last four months.
"There's a lot of guys in that room who have worked long and hard ... to take this franchise up to where it's a contender and where it has gained respect and everything else," Van Gundy said. "That game out there tonight, not just the score, but just the way it went, is disappointing because that's not who we are and that's not who we have worked so hard to become."
And yet, at this point, maybe we shouldn't be all that shocked. If there's anything these playoffs have taught us, it's that there's little carryover from one round to the next. Just ask the Jazz, Spurs or Suns.
And yes, the Magic are going out like that, the latest example of how quickly a great season can turn sour.
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