For six consecutive games, the Orlando Magic were less than average from beyond the three-point arc. Tonight, they were spectacular. For them, it was better late than never.
The Magic made 13 of their 21 three-point shots, good for 61.9%, en route to a shocking 101-82 victory over the Boston Celtics in Game 7, ending the Celtics' title defense at the TD Banknorth Garden.
Hedo Turkoglu accounted for four of those treys and finished with a game-high 25 points. He also quietly recorded a game-high 12 assists in what was by far his most productive game of the series.
Ray Allen did all he could to keep the Celtics in the game, making nine of his 18 shots, but the Magic pulled away in the fourth quarter.Brian Babineau/NBAE/Getty
"When [Turkoglu's] energy level is high, his skill level is so high to begin with, that when he's playing with high energy he is a great basketball player and that's what he was tonight," said Magic Coach Stan Van Gundy.
The Celtics had closed to within five points on a Rajon Rondo 23-foot jumper that ended the third period, but that's as close as they'd be for the remainder of the night.
Orlando came out guns blazing in the fourth, starting the period on a quick 11-0 run that took only two minutes to accumulate. The Magic shot 10-of-15 in the period overall, and their first miss didn't come until the 8:58 mark, when their lead had already ballooned to 79-62.
"Every time we got it down to seven or four they made another big shot," said Doc Rivers. "I mean, they're a hell of a basketball team, and they played probably their best game."
During Orlando's hot stretch, Boston couldn't get any bounces to go their way. They were out of position at both ends of the floor, which resulted in nine fouls and 13 Magic free throw attempts, and shot only 38.9% in the quarter.
With the crowd growing restless and seeing their team's chances slipping away during that initial surge by Orlando, a section in the upper bowl behind the C's bench did everything they could to give the Celtics a jolt in the arm.
During a Celtics timeout at the 10:30 mark, that section began to make some noise that resulted in a standing ovation for their players who weren't even on the court. Seconds later, the building erupted into "Let's go Celtics!" chants until the players made their way back onto the floor.
Unfortunately for fans and players alike, the next round of cheers wouldn't come until Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Rondo and Kendrick Perkins were taken off the floor when the game was well out of hand.
Allen snapped out of his shooting funk and led the Celtics with 23 points on 9-of-18 shooting. Before Rondo's buzzer-beating jumper to end the third period, Allen was the only Boston player to eclipse double-figures in points.
Maybe the strangest story of the night was Pierce's struggles from start to finish. The Celtics captain is known for performing in the clutch and willing his team to victory in key games. Tonight, he just couldn't find his rhythm.
Pierce was confronted by double-teams nearly every time he touched the ball and finished the game shooting only 4-of-13 from the field. He did manage to score 16 points, but his impact on the game was clearly limited by an energized Magic defense.
"Tonight a lot of times when I got the ball they sent double teams, but that's not an excuse," Pierce said. "We got players that are more than capable of stepping up (and) I'm capable of playing through double-teams. I've seen it for most of my career so that's not an excuse. We still had our chances."
Despite the culmination of their title defense, the Boston Celtics have plenty to be proud of. This Celtics team overcame hurdle after hurdle this season and their run through 14 playoff games was nothing short of unbelievable.
Forced to play without their star defensive anchor, Kevin Garnett, and one of their top players off the bench, Leon Powe, the C's managed to knock off the Chicago Bulls in the first round and take the Orlando Magic to the brink of elimination.
"This team showed a lot of heart and we still felt like this was a team that could of went to the championship and still won regardless of who we had out there," Pierce said.
Short of hoisting the Larry O'Brien Trophy high as world champions, it's always a disappointment when the final buzzer sounds on a season. But as nearly every Celtics player noted after the game, this team has absolutely nothing to hang their heads about. They played hard, they played with heart and they played with resolve.
Tonight ends the Celtics' title hopes for 2009, but with nearly all of their core players scheduled to return next season, tomorrow is Day 1 of having title hopes for 2010.