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On Basketball

Looking for win, not a Magic cure

By Gary Washburn
May 24, 2010

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It wasn’t a pleasant night in Boston for the Magic after their 94-71 defeat at the hands of the Celtics in Game 3 Saturday. Jameer Nelson said he slept for just two hours. Coach Stan Van Gundy stewed over his team’s lack of passion, and Dwight Howard’s usually bubbly personality was reduced to a humble whisper.

The Magic are taking more of a plunge than they would at Splash Mountain at Disney World in Orlando, and are figuratively being doused at the conclusion of the drop.

They are soaking wet, embarrassed, and stunned as they enter Game 4 tonight at TD Garden. No NBA team has come back from a three-games-to-none deficit, and if the Magic are swept, this season will be considered an abject failure.

Even if the Magic steal Game 4 and send the series back to Orlando, they will be tabbed disappointments considering how they finished the regular season and swept through the first two rounds of the playoffs. But the Magic have at least one more game to display that their pride has not been expunged.

There were no miracle remedies yesterday following practice at TD Garden. Play harder. Show passion. Hit more shots. Seize an early lead. All of those things were said following Games 1 and 2, but nothing has changed. The Magic are being exposed as a paper champ, a team that flourishes against lesser opponents but lacks leadership against the elite.

For all of his media-savvy rhetoric and dramatic overtures on the sideline, Van Gundy is a man who is at a loss for reasons for his team’s demise. The Magic had not lost three straight games since Jan. 13-18, and have reacted meekly to their first adversity in four months.

“Look, they thumped us pretty good,’’ Van Gundy said. “Everything’s got to change, from our defensive disposition to our effort, our offensive energy and dedication. The first two games were close games, where a few plays here and there would have made a difference, but [Saturday night] was a thumping and we didn’t respond well. We haven’t had a lot of those this time of year. And we’re going to have to bounce back and change the whole way we go about it.’’

With the distinct possibility of watching their season end far short of expectations, the Magic are just looking for a consistent, collective effort. After the Celtics took a 21-6 lead Saturday, the Magic were done. They never made a legitimate run that approached single digits. The most distressing moment occurred in the second quarter when reserve point guard Jason Williams allowed Rajon Rondo to beat him to a loose ball in Orlando’s backcourt, then watched as he converted a layup without any resistance.

Van Gundy had the choice of destroying the tape of Game 3 or showing it to his team, and he chose the latter. The Magic watched in stunned silence. Such a prideful team has been reduced to tackling dummies. Even Van Gundy’s brother Jeff, during ESPN’s Game 3 telecast, asked why there needed to be a Game 4.

The Magic are being counted out, and their effort in Game 3 gave neither their fan base nor anyone else reason to believe the series will extend beyond tonight.

“We can still play great basketball and we will [tonight],’’ said Nelson, the lone Magic player who has consistently played with desire in the series. “It’s just been mental breakdowns. Before practice, I was frustrated a lot. But it’s over with. There are numerous things we could have done a lot better. Our effort wasn’t there and film doesn’t lie. We can complain and say things during the course of the game, but when you sit there and watch film and you see things, that’s the mental toughness we’ve been lacking for the first three games.

“This is not the team you’ve seen win 59 [in the regular season], and the first two series. But we’ve got to prepare ourselves for this game and put those three behind us.’’

So the goal, at least for now, has been reduced from winning the NBA Finals to winning one game. The perception of their organization has drastically changed, from a team on the rise with a franchise center to a bunch of soft players led by an easygoing center and grating coach. One game may not change that, but it would at least work to gain back a semblance of lost pride.

“It’s doable, we just have to come out on the same page,’’ Howard said. “We’re not going to let us being down, 3-0, separate us. It’s easy to [be a close team] when you’re winning and everything is going your way. There’s no need for us to be down. There’s no need for us to come in with an attitude and go at each other. We can’t let this situation tear us apart.’’

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