Orlando Magic coach Stan Van Gundy has never seen his locker room clear out faster than it did after Game 3 against the Toronto Raptors. It was the Magic's lone loss in the playoffs so far, and at 14 points their worst defeat since February.
He gave his players a rare day off from practice to think about it, and Orlando responded with a 106-94 gut-check win Saturday at Toronto to take a 3-1 lead. It was a huge step for a franchise that hadn't won a postseason road game since 2003, and hasn't gotten past the first round since 1996.
But an even bigger one will be closing out the best-of-seven series with a win Monday, instead of having to try again in Toronto.
"For our team it's a maturity level,'' Van Gundy said. "Over the course of the year we've handled adversity better than we handled success. We have to come with hopefully our best game of series.''
Four games in, this much is clear: Whoever leads after the first quarter, wins the rebound battle and gets a better game out of its backcourt will have an awfully good chance. Through the first four games, the victor has done all three.
"There is nothing brilliant I can tell you other than we have got to focus and remember that we came within a shot of winning down there in Game 2, so we know that we are capable of playing well there,'' Raptors coach Sam Mitchell said. "We have got to fight like the dickens. We've got to go out kicking and screaming and so everything we've got, we've got to put into it.''
Chris Bosh broke through in Game 4 with a playoff career-high 39 points and 15 rebounds, and Toronto committed only nine turnovers to Orlando's 18. But Dwight Howard continued to dominate - scoring 19 points, grabbing 16 rebounds and blocking a franchise-record eight shots. The previous record was five, set twice by Shaquille O'Neal and tied by Howard in Game 1.
"Our main goal is to not get complacent. The series is not over yet,'' Howard said. "The series has been hard fought every game. We can't expect nothing but their best - we've got to show a lot of maturity.''
A key for Orlando again will be stopping Toronto's guards on the pick-and-roll. T.J. Ford and Jose Calderon picked the Magic apart with it in the Raptors' Game 3 win, combining for 39 points, 16 assists, 12 rebounds and only four turnovers on 13-of-22 shooting.
The other three games combined, the guards have shot 19-of-62, each failing to break double-digit scoring twice. Calderon had two points on 1-for-7 shooting Saturday.
Bosh thrived with Howard guarding him in Game 4, but that might be a trade Orlando is willing to make. Rashard Lewis was more able to keep Bosh in check, but it winded the Magic forward. Without that primary responsibility Saturday, Lewis had 27 points, 13 rebounds and five assists to help put Orlando in position to advance.
Still, he and the rest of the Magic expect a tough fight Monday.
"Nobody wants to go home,'' Lewis said. "They're not going to be ready to be eliminated. If they can win on our court, I'm sure they'll feel like they have some momentum going back home and playing with their crowd. We want this series over.''
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