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John Schuhmann

The Magic are trying to become the first team in NBA history to come back from 0-3.
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Back from 0-3? If any team can do it, the Magic can

Posted May 27 2010 10:57AM

ORLANDO -- NBA teams that have gone up 3-0 in a best-of-seven series are a perfect 93-0. But none of those 93 series has anything to do with this one.

It has to happen sometime, right?

If ever there was a team that could come back from 3-0, it would be these Orlando Magic. They weren't the best team in the league over the last five months by accident. They're a great team on both ends of the floor, and they've played like it over the last two games.

The Magic are halfway to an unprecedented comeback, but they still have a lot of work to do. The Boston Celtics have still been the better team in this series and momentum doesn't mean much from game to game in the playoffs. At times in this series, it hasn't meant much from quarter to quarter.

Still, it's clearly a different series than it was four days ago. How did the Magic become just the 10th team in NBA history to force a Game 6 after being down 3-0? Here are some key statistical differences between the first three games and the last two.

It's the Orlando offense more than the defense

The Magic were pretty solid offensively in Game 2, but were awful in the first half of Game 1 and in the first and third quarters of Game 3. They actually had only one strong offensive quarter in Game 4, but were ridiculously efficient throughout Game 5 (about 1.3 points per possession in each quarter).

Points per 100 possessions
Games Orlando Boston
1-3 96.5 107.7
4-5 115.5 101.1
Difference 18.9 -6.6

The obvious offensive stat to look at is Orlando's 3-point shooting. After shooting 29 percent in the first three games from beyond the arc, the Magic have shot 43 percent in the last two, including a scorching 13-for-25 in Game 5 on Wednesday. And the key to opening things up on the perimeter has been the play of their point guard.

Jameer Nelson has been the catalyst

Nelson has been much more aggressive in the last two games, holding on to the ball longer when he comes off of high screens and looking to get to the rim or force the Celtics' defense to collapse. Celtics coach Doc Rivers compared the way Nelson is playing to how the Hornets' Chris Paul probes the defense when he comes off a pick. Nelson also has shot well from the perimeter when the Celtics have failed to step out over the screen.

Nelson's numbers
Games FGM FGA FG% Ast/G Pts/G
1-3 17 44 0.386 2.3 14.7
4-5 13 24 0.542 7.0 23.5

In addition to getting his teammates open on the perimeter, by forcing the Celtics' bigs to help, Nelson's penetration has freed up Dwight Howard, both in the low post and on the offensive glass. Howard has shot 65 percent with seven offensive rebounds over the last two games after shooting 45 percent with six offensive boards in the first three.

Getting off to a great start

The Magic won the first quarter in Game 2, but the team that has won the first quarter has come out victorious in each of the other four games.

First-quarter efficiency
Games Bos Poss Bos Pts Bos Eff Orl Poss Orl Pts Orl Eff
1-3 23.0 25.3 110.1 23.0 18.0 78.3
4-5 22.5 26.5 117.8 23.0 31.0 134.8

Overall, the first quarter has been the biggest difference between the first three games and the last two on the Orlando end of the floor. Over the first three games, the Magic shot just 29 percent from the field in the first quarter. Over the last two, they've shot 57 percent.

Keeping the Celtics out of the paint

Both of these teams dominated the paint in the regular season. The Celtics scored the fourth most paint points per possession in the league, and the Magic allowed the fewest.

Despite Dwight Howard's struggles, the Magic had a series-high 44 points in the paint in Game 1, but they allowed 38. In each game since, the Celtics have scored fewer, and Boston had just 28 points in the paint in each of the last two games.

Boston points in paint
Games Bos PIP Orl PIP Diff
1-3 36.0 33.3 +2.7
4-5 28.0 38.0 -10.0

Howard has made himself more of a presence in the middle, not guarding Kendrick Perkins when the Celtics center goes out to set a high screen. Howard's giving up a pull-up jumper from the ballhandler in that situation, but he's preventing a drive to the hoop.

Dominating the glass

The Magic are a much better rebounding team than the Celtics, but they had lost the board battle in Games 2, 3 and 4. Game 5 was a different story, as Orlando outrebounded Boston by 17 on Wednesday.

Boston rebounding
Games Bos Off Bos Def Bos Tot Orl Off Orl Def Orl Tot Diff.
1-3 7.7 32.0 39.7 9.3 29.7 39.0 +0.7
4-5 7.0 29.5 36.5 10.5 32.5 43.0 -6.5

Though the Celtics missed 41 shots, they grabbed just four offensive boards. On the other end, the Magic corralled 10 of their 33 misses, while not sacrificing their transition defense. They allowed a series-low seven fast-break points from the Celtics.

Pushing the ball

The overall pace of the games has not been fastet. Tthe Magic haven't had more fast-break points. But Nelson has been getting the ball up the floor quicker in the last two games. That has allowed Orlando to get into their offense with more time on the shot clock, prevented the Boston defense from getting set on every possession, and increased the Magic's chances of getting a good shot.

According to Synergy Sports Technology, the Magic pushed the ball into their half-court offense just three times in each of the first three games. In Game 4, they did it 18 times. And in Game 5, they did it six times.

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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