Denton: Magic Set For Showdown With Celtics

By John Denton
January 16, 2011


BOSTON – A return to Boston’s TD Garden for Monday’s nationally televised showdown between Orlando and Boston is sure to stir emotions considering it is the site of some of the best and worst memories in Magic franchise history.

For Hedo Turkoglu, being back in Boston in a Magic uniform is sure to conjure up imagines of his performance for the ages in a Game 7 in the 2009 playoffs.

For other Magic players such as Dwight Howard, Jameer Nelson and J.J. Redick, their memories of Boston are fresher and still very raw considering that’s where Orlando was shockingly stopped in the Eastern Conference Finals last spring.

It will be the second meeting of the season between the Magic (26-14) and Celtics (30-9), but the first game back in Boston. The first game came in Orlando when the Magic scored the game’s first 13 points and closed with a 15-1 rally for a Christmas Day victory. But as far as measuring stick games go, taking on the Celtics in raucous Boston will be the ultimate test for the Magic.

``They’re the best team in the East, so we want to play our game and zone in. The goal isn’t to measure ourselves against them; it’s to win the game,’’ said Nelson, the hero of the Christmas Day 86-78 win with two late 3-pointers and four closing free throws. ``We know we can beat anybody, anywhere, so it’s just about putting together a full game on offense and defense.’’

Nelson, Howard and Redick helped the Magic somewhat save face last spring when they nearly pulled off a historic comeback. Down 3-0 to the Celtics, the Magic won two games in a row in the series and hoped that a Game 6 victory would send the series back to Orlando. The Magic lost that Game 6 in Boston, crushing the hopes of an Orlando franchise that had hoped to make a return trip to the NBA Finals.

``I don’t want to think about what happened last season because it still hurts,’’ said Howard, who had 28 points and 12 rebounds in that Game 6 in Boston last season. ``But it’s a new season and definitely a new team. Our focus is on just getting better.’’

The Magic are certainly a much different team than the one that lost in Boston last spring. Matt Barnes and Anthony Johnson weren’t re-signed last summer.

And in large part because the mission is to beat the Celtics and win a NBA championship, the Magic dramatically shuffled the deck on Dec. 18 with two blockbuster trades. Gilbert Arenas, Jason Richardson, Earl Clark and Turkoglu are now on board, while Rashard Lewis, Vince Carter, Marcin Gortat and Mickael Pietrus are playing in Washington and Phoenix.

``It will (stir some emotions), but at the same time I was looking around the locker room the other day and I think there are five guys left who were on that team last year,’’ Redick said. ``It’s a different (Magic) team and I think after what happened on Christmas Day it will have those (Boston) guys ready to go. It will be a great atmosphere.’’

It was certainly a great atmosphere in Boston back in the spring of 2009 when the Magic and Celtics squared off in Beantown for a Game 7 for the right to go to the Eastern Conference Finals. That game was never really in doubt as Turkloglu played the game of his life with 25 points, 12 assists and four 3-pointers. It was the first time ever that the Celtics had lost a Game 7 on their homecourt, and Turkoglu was the man who made it happen.

Boston superstar forward Paul Pierce said recently that he considers the 6-foot-10 Turkoglu – a playmaker first and a scorer second – one of the toughest players in the NBA to guard. No doubt seeing Turkoglu back in Magic blue will bring back memories of that Game 7 performance. For Turkoglu, that moment never strays too far from his memory bank.

``It was one of the best nights of my career and it just adds to what I have done in the NBA,’’ Turkoglu said with a smile. ``The crowd was loud there (in Boston), we played great and that helped us move on. It was a huge moment for me.

``Now, I hope I have another game just like it,’’ Turkoglu continued.

The Magic, winners in Minnesota on Saturday night, might need a similarly great performance from Turkoglu considering how consistently good and focused the Celtics have been this season. Losers in Game 7 of The NBA Finals last June, Boston has played like a team on a mission so far. At one point, they strung together a 14-game winning streak – ended by Orlando on Christmas Day – and have continued to win despite injuries to Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo and Shaquille O’Neal. All are expected to be back Monday night.

``They’re the best team in the East. They have the best record and they won the East last year. They are clearly the best team in the East,’’ Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. ``They’ve played better than anybody. There are challenges everywhere because it difficult to score on them, they play harder, tougher and more disciplined than anybody and there are a lot of people that you have to stop.’’

With a win Monday night, the Magic can lock up the season series, which could be important if the Magic and Celtics finish the regular season tied and meet in the playoffs. But as Howard pointed out, regular-season results are hardly a tell-tale predictor of the future. Orlando beat Boston in three of four meetings last season and had homecourt advantage for the playoff series. Yet, it was the Celtics who advanced to the NBA Finals and left the Magic crushed.

Jumping back into the noisy cauldron that is TD Garden should do wonders to stoke the Magic’s competitive fire, Nelson said.

``Their crowd will be heckling us, but in a good way. They’ll be calling us the good bad names. They’re into the game from the start no matter what and as a player you respect that,’’ Nelson said. ``It should be a fun game for us and a challenge. They’re leading the East and they’re a good team. They’ll be ready and we should be as well.’’

John Denton writes for OrlandoMagic.com. E-mail John at jd41898@aol.com. Submit a question to John for his mailbag segment at AskJD@orlandomagic.com.