The way Stephon Marbury viewed Boston’s 95-90 loss in Game 1 to the Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference semifinals Monday night, the Celtics hadn’t really earned the energy that the sellout crowd was giving them when they started to mount a dramatic, nearly historic comeback from a 28-point third-quarter hole.
“The crowd was great,” Marbury said. “They came ready to do what they were supposed to do. We didn’t.”
What the Celtics didn’t do was keep the game close in the final moments of the second quarter and early stretches of the third quarter.
With the game tied, 30-30, Orlando closed the first half on a 24-6 run to take a 54-36 halftime lead.
Things were looking really bleak when J.J. Redick drained a three with 8:56 remaining in the third for a 65-37 Orlando lead.
The TD Banknorth Garden crowd was driven into a frenzy in the final quarter after the Celtics converted turnover after turnover by Orlando into either wide-open threes or easy transition baskets.
The Green shaved that 28-point lead down to just four, 89-85, on Glen Davis’ reverse layup with 2:08 remaining.
The blood was in the water and the deafening Garden crowd was imploring the Celtics to finish off for the kill.
“I thought it was going to translate into a ‘W’ but whenever you put yourself behind by that much, you exert so much energy trying to get back into the game, then you have a couple of lapses, a couple of turnovers here, a turnover there, but the positive that we can take out of the this game is looking at the next game, taking the second half and applying that to the next game,” Marbury said.
Indeed, the Celtics came down the court four consecutive trips midway through the fourth quarter, down just nine with a chance to cut into the lead but failed each time.
Had they converted, we would likely by talking about a comeback even better than last year’s rally from 24 down in Game 4 of the NBA Finals or the 26-point comeback against the Nets in Game 3 of the 2002 Eastern Conference finals against New Jersey, a game Brian Scalabrine saw first-hand as a member of the Nets.
“I was part of the other side of that,” Scalabrine said afterward. “But this is different. That was Paul Pierce making a play after play after play. We did it today collectively. Paul did a great job today, by the way, but on a separate note, that was just a ridiculous performance by him.”
What was ridiculous to the Celtics coaching staff and players was the way they fell behind so badly in the second and third quarters.
“We were just stagnant on offense and didn’t get stops on defense,” Rajon Rondo said.
“There was no fatigue,” added coach Doc Rivers. “I don’t believe in that. We had a whole day off, we ain’t making no excuses. There was no fatigue. We played flat, we played with no energy in the first half, but it wasn’t the fatigue factor. Why, I don’t know.
"Obviously, I’ve got to do something to get them going better. I always think, it’s always the coach. But we’ve got to be better than that to start a game. We put ourselves in a hole. Clearly, when we put pressure on them, it was a whole different game.”
As for the other side, the Magic were just counting their blessings that they did not become part of history on Monday, the kind of history that can devastate a team, leaving them helpless and hopeless the rest of the series.
“You know when the home team is coming at you like that especially on the road you have to keep your calm and you got to be emotional defensively because they’re going to put pressure on you,” said Mickael Pietrus, who drained a key three-pointer to stop an early fourth-quarter Celtics surge. “I think that we came out very aggressive and focused. We made big buckets even though we didn’t play aggressively the second part.”
But the Celtics' captain put it all in focus for the Celtics, who had none in the first half.
“We never feel like we’re out of a ball game but you never want to get down like that, especially at home,” Paul Pierce said. “There’s no excuse for it. I know we can play better basketball then we did.
"When we go back tomorrow the whole emphasis will probably going to look at the second quarter and the third quarter, but we didn’t do in the second and what we did in the third, just pretty much sums up the game.”