Like magic, energy has been rediscovered
ORLANDO, Fla. — Energy and effort were the biggest questions surrounding the Magic entering Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals last night. After dropping the first three games of the series — two at Amway Arena — the Magic played Game 4 with the furious effort that made them a heavy favorite entering the series. Last night they seemed to play even harder.
On the strength of their 113-92 victory, the Magic pulled within two games of completing what would be the greatest comeback in NBA history, coming back from a 3-0 deficit to advance to the Finals. They know they still have a lot of work to do, but they’ve proved, at the very least, that if they lose the series it’s not going to be because of a lackluster effort.
“We’ve broken a lot of records over the course of the past few years,’’ Jameer Nelson said. “We’ve done a lot of great things over the years and this could be the greatest thing of all, other than winning the championship.
“You just go out there and do it again, it’s simple. You just go out there and play basketball. The one thing we can control is how hard we play. We can’t control anything else as far as the ball going in, whether we turn the ball over at times when we’re trying to make a play. The only thing we can control is how hard we play.’’
The Magic have been a different team since their disappointing performance in Game 3, seeming more confident with a clear understanding of what needs to be done to beat the Celtics. Perhaps the Celtics — and heavy criticism — woke a sleeping giant. Perhaps the Magic are a team that performs better facing difficult odds. One thing is certain: They’re not the same team the Celtics beat three times last week.
“We just believe that we can win this series and if we want to win it we have to go take it,’’ said Dwight Howard, who scored 21 points and had 10 rebounds. “We have to go out there and play hard for 48 minutes, put out a lot of energy and work extremely hard.
“We know what we have to do to win. The biggest thing is how we start the game and the half. That’s been the biggest thing in this series; we have to do a good job coming out.’’
The Magic were forced to do a lot of soul searching following the three losses. Many times a close score can lead players to think they’re playing with a full effort. The Magic, however, realized they could be doing more and giving more.
“One thing is film doesn’t lie,’’ Nelson said. “You can think you’re playing hard enough, but when you watch that film you see that you’re not playing hard enough. You can think you’re getting into the lane and then see you’re not. So I wanted to have a great focus on being aggressive and getting into the lane.’’
The Magic’s leaders led the way in terms of effort and energy, but the All-Stars were given a huge lift from J.J. Redick, who continues to give the Magic big minutes off the bench. Checking in at the 4:11 mark of the first quarter, Redick lifted Orlando to a 12-point first-half lead by scoring 11 points to go along with several scrappy defensive plays. The 25-year-old guard’s play is most welcome for the Magic as Vince Carter continues to be a nonfactor. Redick’s energy will be needed if the Magic hope to complete a historic comeback.
“That’s just the way I play,’’ Redick said. “I’ve played like that the whole season. I think our bench talks about that a lot as a group. Being energetic and providing our team not just with threes and dunks from Marcin [Gortat] but hustle plays and playing hard.’’