The season is over. There is no other way to describe the feeling after Orlando dropped Game Six in Boston 96-84. The Celtics are Eastern Conference Champions, and the Magic are going home early (not that early, but still short of a championship).
It is difficult to grasp the full meaning of those words. It means the Amway Arena is closed to Magic basketball. It means Orlando failed to defend its Eastern Conference title and its home court. It means the season, for all intents and purposes, is a failure.
There will be plenty of time to slice up and dissect what is worth keeping and what is worth discarding to get back into this position -- to reach the Finals and win the NBA championship -- next year.
In the immediate, Boston made the plays to ensure Orlando would not have a chance to make history Sunday night. Rajon Rondo pushed the pace early as the Celtics had 16 fast break points in the first half. Nate Robinson came off the bench to score 13 points in the second quarter to spark Boston and extend the team's 11-point first quarter lead. Ray Allen started the second half with two 3-pointers to make it a 19-point lead.
The Celtics were in control from almost the start and had an answer to every run. They shot just 42.7 percent from the floor -- a credit to the Magic's defense and effort to stay in this one -- but hit 10 of 22 3-pointers and made six more free throws (both teams shot 27 free throws).
Orlando simply could not hit the shots the team needed to mount any serious run. Open shots were not falling and the same looks that fell in Games Four and Five did not go in. The Magic shot 43.1 percent and hit on only 6 of 22 3-pointers. They fell behind and could not regain confidence as the Celtics kept finding ways to extend the lead.
There was simply not enough mojo left to get Orlando back in the game.
Stan Van Gundy said the team went away a bit from its offense in trying to come back, which is true to a certain extent. The Magic, for the first time since falling behind 3-0, played desperate. It put them out of position and gave Boston opportunities to take advantage. The Celtics did and they are moving on.
More than anything though, Orlando can take a few things out of this loss heading into the offseason (we dreamed of a dynasty right? So that means we have a shot next year, right?).
First Dwight Howard deserves a lot of credit for the way he played. He fought hard tonight and did everything he could to get his team a victory. Howard scored 28 points and grabbed 12 rebounds. but he did not have the dominating performance defensively in the paint that he had in Orlando's two wins. Rondo was able to get in the paint and wreak some havoc. And that is how things get started offensively for Boston. Howard though did everything he could to protect the paint and lead his team offensively.
Unfortunately no one was able to join him.
JJ Redick had his first really poor game of the series, shooting two for seven and scoring seven points. Jameer Nelson looked tentative coming off screens, unlike he did in the previous two games, and it took him a while to find his aggression before he scored 11 points. His five turnovers did not help either.
This was in stark contrast to Boston. Rondo was the first to lead the team, but it was Paul Pierce who finished off the Magic -- as he has all series. Pierce scored 31 points on 9-of-15 shooting and got to the line for 10 free throws (his fifth game with 10 or more free throws).
It was more than just the points though. Pierce seemed to lift his teammates and make them play at a higher level. Maybe Howard and Nelson are not ready to do this and simply will their team into a game like Pierce did tonight (that is no knock on Howard or Nelson or anyone else, the Magic fought tonight).
Orlando waited too long to get into this series and 3-point shooting teams sometimes have games where the team misses shots. In the Eastern Conference Finals, that is going to equal a loss. The margin of error was too thin for the Magic to make up for this kind of a bad shooting night.
The Celtics had their "heart of a champion" moment. This is a team that knows how to win a title. And it is them, not the Magic, who are four wins away from the ultimate goal.
There are pieces to pick up now. Orlando can be discouraged, upset and disappointed in losing tonight. But the Magic can hold their heads high in knowing they fought back in this series after going down 3-0 and fought hard to extend the series. They just came up short.