Denton: Magic-Celtics Postgame Analysis

By John Denton
December 25, 2010

ORLANDO – With the Orlando Magic slogging along and down by 10 points at intermission, head coach Stan Van Gundy harkened back at halftime to a speech that franchise center Dwight Howard gave in the very first team meeting of the season. It was about the Magic being physically and mentally tougher, particularly against the rival Boston Celtics, and fighting them to the bitter end.

When the Magic finally snapped out of an offensive funk on Saturday and delivered a game-closing 15-1 knockout punch, the Magic had a tough and gritty victory that seemed to indicate they had learned a thing or two since last spring’s Eastern Conference Finals.

``I told the guys at the beginning season that we have to be tough, nit just physically, but also mentally, especially against teams like Boston who will come at us from all kinds of angles and try to punk us,’’ Howard said after Orlando’s 86-78 Christmas Day whipping of the Celtics. ``Coach just reminded us that when things get going tough for us that we have to fight it out. I just kept trying to talk to my teammates and I told them this is our game. I really like what I saw out of guys. We didn’t allow the frustration build to the point where we give up. This reminds me of the team (from 2009) where we’d be down in the fourth, we’d keep fighting and we’d get the win.’’

The Magic’s fast start to the game (13-0) and even better finish (15-1) allowed them to beat Boston at Amway Arena in the first showdown of the season between the two Eastern Conference titans. Orlando (18-12) also set a bit of history in the process, becoming the NBA’s first team in 13 years to end double-digit win streaks in consecutive games. Orlando beat San Antonio on Thursday, stopping the Spurs win streak at 10 games. And Saturday’s furious finish helped the Magic end Boston’s run at 14 wins in a row.

``Anybody that would have to play the top three teams in the league in five days, bang-bang-bang, most people would take two out of three in that group,’’ Van Gundy said of the Magic’s stretch against Dallas (23-5), San Antonio (25-4) and Boston (23-5). ``We’ll still have plenty of ups and downs, but I think it’s great to see games against the Spurs and Celtics and you see what the possibilities are with us. You see that we have a chance to be a very good team. We’re not there yet, but we have a chance to be a very good team. That belief that this can work and we can do this is great.’’

Great was a word to describe the play of Jameer Nelson down the stretch. Nelson missed six of his first seven shots, but hit a 3-pointer to draw the Magic within two points of the lead and then another with 1:19 to play to give the Magic an 80-77 lead. Nelson also made four free throws down the stretch.

``I’ve been in situations before when I was one of 10 and two of 15, but I’m always going to take those shots when I’m open,’’ said Nelson, who finished with 12 points. ``I’m just going to shoot the shots that I know I can make and not get outside of my game.

Added Boston coach Doc Rivers: ``Jameer, to me, willed that game for them. Jameer Nelson, he’s got the biggest heart on the team. He’s just a warrior and he does it all of the time. Give him credit because I thought he was phenomenal.’’

Brandon Bass had 21 points and nine assists and Hedo Turkoglu added 16 points and four assists for a Magic team that won despite shooting just 39.4 percent from the floor. Turkoglu, who was reacquired last week in the trade with Phoenix, was a plus-30 in point differential in his almost 33 minutes on the floor.

Here is a look back at what went right, what went wrong and some final observations from a Christmas Day victory that Magic fans won’t soon forget: