"Every great magic trick consists of three parts or acts.
"The first part is called 'The Pledge.' The magician shows you something ordinary: a deck of cards, a bird or a man. He shows you this object. Perhaps he asks you to inspect it to see if it is indeed real, unaltered, normal. But of course... it probably isn't.
"The second act is called 'The Turn.' The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. Now you're looking for the secret... but you won't find it, because of course you're not really looking. You don't really want to know. You want to be fooled. But you wouldn't clap yet.
"Because making something disappear isn't enough; you have to bring it back. That's why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call 'The Prestige.'" -The Prestige
The Magic could have fooled us. Or maybe it was the Celtics pulling the trick.
Whoever pulled the wool over our eyes, really knew how to knock us down hard. Against the Celtics, at least, Monday appears to be no aberration.
Not after another abysmal second-half performance. Not after scoring eight points in the fourth quarter of a tight game. Not after losing a 27-point lead from the first half. Not after losing a 21-point halftime lead or an 11-point lead entering the fourth quarter. Not after scoring a total of 45 points in the second half of TWO GAMES against the Celtics.
Boston might have Orlando's number. The team might have figured out the way to bump, push and harass Dwight Howard into inefficiency. The Celtics certainly know how to stop the Magic's 3-point shooting.
The 27-point lead was gone. The momentum and feeling that Monday was long behind this team as an aberration of the lockout were long gone as E'Twaun Moore and Paul Pierce fired in dagger after dagger. The Magic were chasing points again and could not find the bottom of the basket. Eight fourth-quarter points says it all.
The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was making the world believe he did not exist.
The Celtics certainly seem to be doing that. What the Magic saw in two games was a team that was sharp defensively, forcing them into corners and holes where there was no escape. The Magic gave up on the ball movement that built a 27-point lead and went to recklessly and wildly working for their own shot. There were two different teams playing tonight.
What the Celtics did was exactly like the great magic trick Michael Caine and Christopher Nolan talked about in The Prestige. You would think the Magic would be the ones pulling the trick.
The Magic played about as well as a team could in the first half. After a slow start, and some foul trouble for Dwight Howard, the offense came alive. Orlando attacked the basket, moved the ball and got open shots. Ryan Anderson was in a rhythm with 12 first-half points (he didn't score in the second half). The team shot 50 percent in the first half.
Orlando had 58 first-half points. Yes, two points more than the team scored in the entire game Monday in Boston.
Dwight Howard kept things going in the second quarter, making the inside-out game work and keeping the floor spread. The defense was opportunistic too. The rotations were crisp and the Magic were able to get into passing lanes to get steals and keep the Celtics on the perimeter.
This all looked like a continuation of the Indiana game. This was the team we knew the Magic could be. And the large lead exemplified it.
Of course, every NBA team has a run in them. And the Celtics would slowly make theirs. Dwight Howard was kept out of the paint a bit more as Kevin Garnett ratcheted up the defense. Howard finished with 16 points to go with 16 rebounds.
As the shots began to clank, the energy began to wane. The ball movement slowly stopped.
The Celtics stopped with the silly turnovers and Paul Pierce started to take over. Pierce scored 24 points on 7-for-18 shooting and began breaking down the defense and probing into the paint. The Celtics chipped away at the lead. Getting perimeter shots from E'Twaun Moore scored 16 points off the bench making four 3-pointers.
Those 3-pointers came big in building momentum for the ultimate trick...
And then the Celtics absolutely laid it on Orlando. The fourth quarter was just one bad event after another.
Moore and Pierce went on a tear. The Magic tried to find Howard int he post to settle things down, but Kevin Garnett pushed him out of the paint and off his spot. He could not get himself going in the post. And with him struggling to do that and Garnett putting him on lockdown, the perimeter defenders ratcheted up their play.
They went after the perimeter players hard and forced them into making one bad decision after another. There were turnovers early in the fourth quarter. Then, desperate for points, it was one-pass-and-shoot offense or hero ball. Players were looking to get themselves free just to stop the bleeding instead of continuing to work together like in the first half.
It did not help that Howard, the linchpin, could not get going. But the team proved early in the game that it could score with Howard on the bench.
The defense was completely lost too. The team would make a great first rotation, but then failed to recover. It allowed Boston to hit 10 3-pointers, five more than Orlando's five. The Celtics beat the Magic at their own game. But they also got our good friend Brandon Bass open for mid-range jumpers that were inexplicably wide open.
Boston took complete control and had pulled the ultimate trick on the road.
At once, the Celtics announced they are still a title contender and that the Magic are still a team in disarray.