16 April 2007

Hold On For Dear Life: Magic 88, Celtics 86

If there's a textbook definition of "backing in to the playoffs", I imagine that tonight's white-knuckle victory over Boston matches it almost exactly. After pummeling the Celtics 30-19 in the third quarter to take a 19-point lead into the fourth, the Celtics stormed back and nearly stole one from us.

Well, maybe I should check that. The Celtics didn't so much as storm back as much as we gave them an engraved invitation to beat us. We didn't hit any shots over the last 6:44 of the period, only mustering three free throws over that span. Meanwhile, we messed around with the ball so badly that it nearly cost us the game. The full play-by-play is available here, but a summary of our miscues in that stretch is shown in this chart:

If there's a better case for why the Magic need a go-to scorer, I'd like to see it. Jameer Nelson, who has made himself our top clutch option this season, committed the most actions that resulted in a Boston possession. He had an otherwise good game before melting down here, which is exactly what he needs to AVOID if he is going to carry this team for the future.

It also occurs to me that Grant Hill is conspicuous in his absence from that chart; he didn't even take a shot. As the veteran leader, you'd think that he'd be getting the ball in these tight situations. I put some of the blame for Hill's lack of usage on Jameer; after all, it's his job to GIVE TEAMMATES THE BALL when they need it. At this point, I'm about 85% sure that Carlos Arroyo should be playing more minutes. He has more experience. The entire population of Puerto Rico has been saying this for the past month.

I know I sound angry and bitter, but I assure you that I'm glad we made the playoffs. It's been entirely too long, and it'll be good for the youngsters to get some postseason experience. We're virtually locked in to the 8th seed, which means a first-round matchup with Detroit, which means a fairly early trip home. Nonetheless, It's good that we'll be playing more than 82 games this season.

What I'm most concerned about now is momentum. The bottom dropped out tonight, and I can only hope that we're able to duplicate our otherwise solid play this month. Look at it like this: we were two last-second Hedo Turkoglu blocked shots away from going into overtime with the Celtics in a game we lead by 19 points. OMINOUS.

Anyway, we visit Washington on Tuesday, which got thumped badly by Chicago earlier today, so the Wizards will certainly be pumped up for that game. We can't afford to let up now that we've clinched because there's still a chance, however slim, that we could leapfrog them in the standings and thus draw a more favorable first-round playoff opponent. So, sadly, it appears as though we've seen the last of James Augustine and Travis Diener.

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