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Celtics are eliminated by Magic

May 18, 2009|Brian Schmitz

BOSTON — When the night ended and the feel-good comeback was complete, the Orlando Magic merrily left the storied court with this startling realization:

It is halfway home to winning an NBA title.

Now the Magic will have to go through LeBron's house to reach its destination.

Incredibly, given the odds against the Magic, that's where Orlando finds itself after eliminating the defending champion Boston Celtics, 101-82, in Game 7 of their Eastern Conference semifinal matchup on Sunday night at TD Banknorth Garden.

It's on to the conference finals for the franchise for the first time since 1996.

Standing in the way of making its first NBA Finals appearance since 1995: LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, who are unbeaten during the postseason.

"You can have the championship in the back of your mind as a goal, but now we're trying to get one win against Cleveland," Coach Stan Van Gundy said. "This is huge for our team and the organization."

Forward Hedo Turkoglu, who had 25 points and 12 assists, was asked how far his team can go.

"We want to see, too," Turkoglu said. "We have a chance. We never lose confidence of what we can do -- not myself, not anybody."

The Magic felt it had lost two opportunities, in Games 4 and 5, to make quicker work of the Celtics. Orlando fell behind 3-2 and was on the brink of elimination but won the last two games, including its first Game 7 victory since 1995.

The Magic was afire from the field, making 13 of 21 three-point shots -- its specialty -- and building a 23-point fourth-quarter lead.

Orlando's "Big Three" -- Turkoglu, Dwight Howard (12 points, 16 rebounds) and Rashard Lewis (19 points) -- led the way to Cleveland.

Mickael Pietrus (17 points) came up huge from the bench to hand Boston just its fourth loss in 21 Game 7s at home.

The big question as the fourth quarter started was whether the Magic would suffer a similar Game 5 meltdown in the final period.

In that game, Orlando coughed up a 14-point lead and a 10-point lead with just over five minutes left, which also caused Howard to second-guess Van Gundy.

Sunday, the Magic led by just five at 66-61 to start the fourth. Orlando pushed the lead to 17 after three minutes, playing with poise and defense -- components missing in Game 5.

Celtics shooting guard Ray Allen (23 points), who finally found his jump shot, drilled a three-pointer to cut the lead to 12 at 90-78 with just over four minutes to play.

"It looked similar and we learned from it," Van Gundy said.

The Magic will be portrayed as big underdogs against the Cavaliers, who will have home-court advantage.

Cleveland posted the league's best regular-season record and home-court record, boasted the MVP in James and has swept through two postseason series.

But on closer inspection, the Magic has matched up well with the Cavaliers.

Orlando has won eight of the last 11 meetings, including an 116-87 romp this year in Orlando.

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bschmitz@orlandosentinel.com

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