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Magic not ready for prime time

03.25.09 at 11:22 pm ET
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If anyone needed an explanation as to why people don’t really take Orlando seriously as a title threat, Wednesday night’s game with the Celtics should serve as a perfect illustration. To review: The Magic were at home with a double-digit lead in the second half, Doc Rivers kept to his plan of playing Kevin Garnett just 17 minutes and still Orlando found itself at the mercy of Paul Pierce and a 50-50 foul call that went its way at the end of the game. (Click here for a recap).

To be sure this was not a great performance by the Celtics by any measure (which we will get to shortly), but after blowing a dozen-point lead while Garnett sat on the bench, the Magic treated their home crowd to the following plays down the stretch:

Two clanked 3-pointers by Rafer Alston.

Another 3-pointer by rookie Courtney Lee.

A rushed, two-feet behind the arc, 3-pointer by Hedo Turkoglu.

This despite the fact that they have A) the best center in the game and B) an All-Star forward who is one of, if not the best, shooters in the game. Alston was a great pickup, considering the circumstances, but he’s no Jameer Nelson, and late in the game Orlando’s lack of a floor leader was evident.

For the Celtics, this was a big game, an interesting game even, but a huge game? Not really. Had they won they could have gone up by two full gamesĀ  and owned the head-to-head tiebreaker in the race for the second seed. Now, everything is tied (although Orlando does have a game in hand in the loss column) so while they lost their breathing-room they didn’t lose their edge.

It might be that when we look back at the season in a few weeks this game will be the one that did in fact decide homecourt advantage, but it certainly didn’t prove anything.

Six more Celtics-related observations:

1. The biggest call of the game wasn’t the no-call on Pierce’s drive (which looked like the right call from this vantage point). The biggest call came about six minutes in when Kendrick Perkins picked up his second offensive foul in three possessions, both of which were a little dubious. The first came on a makeup call after he had drawn one on Dwight Howard. The second came after Turkoglu ran into his pick and then reinforced every Euro stereotype with an epic someone-just-shot-me flop. (Anyone else wonder if Wes Unseld would last more than six minutes in an NBA game in 2009?)

Once Perkins left, Howard went crazy, finishing the first quarter with a double-double and the Magic established control. Perkins is the Celtics best option on Howard, and indeed he stifled him down the stretch. When he went out, there was no one who could keep him off the boards.

2. Welcome back Paul Pierce. The Captain had gone missing for week or so, but you could see the swagger, and the game return, in the second half. Pierce finished with 26 points and seven rebounds and it wouldn’t have surprised anyone who has been watching this year if he had found a way to steal another game.

3. Give the Magic credit for one thing. They played the last three seconds about as well as you can play in that spot–using their foul to give correctly and forcing Pierce into an off-balance shot at the buzzer. That was about the only thing they executed well in the last five minutes but it might have won them the game.

4. Stephon Marbury was frozen out of the second-half rotation and it’s not hard to see why. He was once again tentative on offense and outside of bringing the ball up court he didn’t provide much of anything of value. It’s been 14 games now, which is still not enough time to judge, but it’s getting closer.

5. Not to pick on the new additions, but Mikki Moore’s foul on Rashard Lewis while Lewis was shooting a 3 with about five minutes left couldn’t have come at a worse time. Moore has a chance with Leon Powe out for a few more weeks to establish himself, but like Marbury, it needs to happen soon.

6. Eddie House was the sole offensive threat for a good stretch of the second quarter when the Magic began to build their lead. Doc has continued to tinker with lineups in that spot and it’s safe to say he hasn’t found one he likes yet.

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