ORLANDO, Fla. – They lost their cool, then lost the game.
And if that wasn’t bad enough, the Orlando Magic might have just lost any realistic hope of returning to the NBA finals.
With frustration evident and the season very possibly slipping away, the Magic lost Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals to the Boston Celtics 95-92 on Tuesday night, falling behind 2-0 in the best-of-seven series and putting themselves into a most precarious hole.
“We didn’t play smart enough,” Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. “I thought we played hard enough.”
That they played “hard enough” was never more evident than in the final moments when down by three points, the Magic got a critical stop with nine seconds left.
An example of not “smart enough” was that after getting that rebound, J.J. Redick didn’t call a timeout until 3.5 seconds remained.
“I made a mistake,” Redick acknowledged.
A critical mistake, for certain. The best Orlando could manage from there was Jameer Nelson’s running 35-footer that fell short.
What should have happened?
“Immediate timeout,” Van Gundy said.
Instead, time ran down, and now, time might very well be running out on the Magic. Not only do they need to find a way to win four of the next five games against a team that has lost just three times so far in the entire post-season, but at least two of those wins will have to come in Boston — where the series shifts for Game 3 on Saturday night.
“Just because we’re down 2-0 doesn’t mean the series is over with,” Magic centre Dwight Howard said.
It was an Orlando ungluing, and it came at the absolute worst time.
The Magic argued calls, plenty of them. Vince Carter waved his arms in disbelief when called for his third foul, incensing referee Bill Kennedy enough to call a technical. They argued with each other at times, Redick and Howard appearing to exchange a couple of words when Redick threw the ball away in the third quarter. They smacked their hands in disgust, like Rashard Lewis did after a rebound evaded his grasp.
“If we got caught up in anything, it was forcing plays offensively,” Van Gundy said. “It boggles my mind how many times you’re going to go in and just try to jump into people and think you’re going to get a foul called and complain about the call. Just keep doing it and doing it and doing it and doing it. We’re not taking good enough shots. That’s the bottom line.”
Despite it all, the Magic still had chances.
Carter had two free throws with 31.9 seconds left that could have gotten Orlando within one point — he missed both. The Magic held their collective breath as Kevin Garnett’s jumper that would have clinched it for Boston rimmed out on the next possession, but that only set up the flawed decision to not get timeout called.
The Celtics gave the Magic credit, thinking that Redick — an incredibly good free-throw shooter — was waiting to get fouled by Tony Allen. Turns out, that was the Boston plan.
Allen didn’t hear it.
Might have been the biggest break Boston got all night.
“It actually worked out,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said.
Orlando was resigned to look for the miracle that wouldn’t be coming. Nelson missed, time expired and the Celtics could finally exhale.
The Magic could only shuffle off the court, perhaps for the last time in their current home. A glistening new building awaits next door, set to open next fall. There’s now no guarantee of any more Orlando home games this season, one of championship expectations that could be over in less than a week.
“Got to go up there and win a game,” Van Gundy said. “You’ve got to go play the next game and win it. That’s all. There’s no, like, magic.”