The positive way of looking at the Boston Celtics' 95-90 Game 1 loss to the Orlando Magic is that yes, after trailing by as many as 28 points in the third quarter, the Celtics made a comeback that came inches short. The negative: the Celtics got trounced in the first half and have, for the moment, lost home-court advantage.
But viewed from a distance, the game offered one big-picture lesson: against the Magic, who can never seem to help themselves from beyond the arc, the window is always open.
In coach Stan Van Gundy's words, the Magic played their best basketball of the year in the first 30 minutes of the game. And that was because, while they shot 52% from the field and 3-of-8 from downtown, it was balanced, inside-out basketball. Not only were the Celtics getting out-shot by the Magic, they were getting out-fought in the middle, losing points in the paint, 30-16, while shooting zero free-throws.
"It's like a boxing match and you get hit with a hook and an upper cut and then you decide to fight," Paul Pierce said. "We can't do that we got to take the fight to them from the start."
Rashard Lewis made only one of his five three-point attempts in Game 1.Brian Babineau/NBAE/Getty
It took some time, but eventually the Celtics hit back where it hurts: the charity stripe. In the second half, the Celtics, behind a ruthless Rajon Rondo, attempted 26 free throws. They would, as with any great comeback, hit more than their fair share of threes (six) in the half, and earn just six more points in the paint, but the damage done at the line had Orlando reeling. With the Celtics surging, the Magic looked like they had brought their threeball to a dogfight.
"We got some easy layups but the three ball was falling for us early in the game," Rashard Lewis said. "Obviously we didn't hit very many in the second half but at the same time we gotta get the ball into Dwight when we're not making as many jumpshots."
That might be the defining, if never most publicized, storyline of the entire series. The Magic are built with three-point shooters around an All-World center, but once the big guy starts drawing double teams and the open threes start falling, it's tough for them to say no to the all-you-can-shoot buffet line.
So, with the comfortable lead in the second half, the Magic continued to hoist from deep, attempting 19 more threes and making just six. The long rebounds fell into the hands of Rondo and the Celtics guards, jumpstarting fast breaks (17 Boston fast break points in the second half) and tilting the favor of the basketball gods, along with their ever necessary breaks of the game, to Boston.
"Everything was rolling in their favor, and we did not handle any of that very well, and we need to handle that a lot better on Wednesday," Van Gundy said. "We should have handled it a lot better. We didn't. Even if we were having trouble stopping them we should have been able to get better shots at the other end."
The Celtics got foot after foot out of the inches afforded to them, scaling enough of the hole to sniff daylight at four points behind, but in the end the Magic bailed themselves out by re-conquering the paint.
But that might not always happen, because if the open jumper is there, the Magic might not be able to resist. And even trailing, the Celtics will always be ready to pounce, because they have something that's inside every great team.
"Just our pride, more than anything," Kendrick Perkins said. "Just a playoff game at home, it's embarrassing to be down 25, 28 points."