By Josh Cohen
ORLANDO -- While the Orlando Magic just completed a thrilling, yet gratifying, series against the Philadelphia 76ers in the First Round of the 2009 NBA Playoffs, the team’s next opponent, the Boston Celtics, were no stranger to postseason drama.
In their opening round, the C’s fought tooth and nail to survive and advance against the Chicago Bulls. The series lasted the full seven games and included an NBA playoff series record seven overtimes.
Though Boston was the defending champs and favorites to reach the conference finals, it was conspicuous that a major piece was missing. Kevin Garnett, who helped the franchise capture their 17th NBA title a year earlier in his first season with the Celtics, was injured and out for the entire playoffs.
Not that anyone was necessarily sympathetic toward the C’s considering the Bulls were devoid of Luol Deng in the prior series and Jameer Nelson was absent for the Magic. However, the magnitude of this subtraction for Boston was significant because of KG’s unparalleled role as a leader and oppressor.
It had been 14 years since the Celtics and Magic clashed in a playoff series. Orlando closed the historic Boston Garden in 1995 with a memorable First Round triumph, which paved the way for a treasured voyage to the NBA Finals.
But unlike that year when the Magic were heavy favorites, this time it was quite the opposite. Despite no Garnett, Boston was projected to cruise. With Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and a radically improved Rajon Rondo, the C’s seemed poised to return to the conference finals.
However, that sentiment went stale rather quickly when the series began. Orlando’s balanced offense and stingy defense against an outwardly exhausted bunch in Boston proved too significant as the Magic took a 1-0 series advantage.
Suddenly the critics, who by and large all predicted the Celtics to win this series, began to wonder, were the Magic the better team? Well, the C’s responded with their own message in Game 2 as Eddie House poured in 31 points off the bench and Rondo dished out 18 assists to help Boston even up the series.
Not at all shaken and actually ecstatic considering they stole away the home-court edge, the Magic returned home and pounced all over the C’s in Game 3. And they did it without starting point guard Rafer Alston, who was suspended as a result of an altercation he had with House in the preceding game.
Rapidly, a thought-to-be quick and painless series for Boston evolved into an upset in the making. Orlando had everyone’s attention and the support from the hometown fans was as radiant as ever.
With so much riding on Game 4, particularly for the Celtics who wanted no part of a 3-1 series deficit, it was not surprising that this pivotal contest was a tug-of-war from the opening tipoff.
Back and forth they went and eventually it would come down to a breathtaking final minute and more specifically a heart-wrenching final few seconds.
Down one with the shot clock off, Boston would rely on the composure of a young budding big man. Forced to pass because of a double team near the top of the key, Pierce found Glen “Big Baby” Davis open on the wing and his 18-foot jumper was pure at the buzzer to lift the C’s to a stirring Game 4 victory.
Silence and disbelief ensued at Amway Arena and suddenly all the momentum had returned to the men in green.
Clearly devastated and distraught, the Magic were once again motionless in the late stages of Game 5 at TD Garden. Up 10 with less than five minutes remaining, Orlando’s offense became unglued while Boston’s supporting cast, including Big Baby and Stephon Marbury, rose to the occasion to propel the C’s to a 3-2 series lead.
It seemed like a near impossibility for the Magic to overcome the daunting deficit, especially with Boston a perfect 32-0 when leading a seven-game series 3-2.
And for a moment late in the fourth quarter of Game 6 when Pierce started to erupt and had the C’s in front, things started to look really bleak for the Magic.
But rather than clench in fear, Orlando stepped up and rallied to avoid elimination. Dwight Howard posted 23 points and 22 rebounds and Hedo Turkoglu drilled a huge 3-pointer late as the Magic forced a decisive Game 7 in Boston.
Despite the Game 6 boost, nobody really gave Orlando a legit chance to walk into the TD Garden and actually beat the C’s. It seemed like such an overwhelming and taxing task. And it seemed like only a matter of time before the Magic would be packing their bags for summer vacation.
But hours prior to the showdown, confidence poured out from within the Magic. Patrick Ewing, an assistant coach for Orlando, guaranteed his team would prevail.
Most assumed the C’s would blow out the Magic. Some figured Orlando would put up a fight but fall short. And very few thought the Magic would eek out a victory in thrilling fashion.
But nobody could have predicted what actually happened. Led by Turkoglu’s outstanding 25-point, 12-assist performance and behind some extraordinary 3-point shooting (13-of-21 from beyond arc), the Magic crushed the Celtics in Game 7 to advance to the conference finals.
It was arguably the franchise’s most satisfying single win ever. The Magic defied the odds and proved the naysayers wrong. Celebration ensued in the visitor’s locker room. And though this was just another obstacle overcome on the road to glory, it drastically heightened the team’s overall confidence and trust in each other.
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