BOSTON -- By any measure, the Boston Celtics played their best basketball of the season (and perhaps since 2007-08) in beating the top-seeded Cleveland Cavaliers decisively in three straight games, the capper a 94-85 victory Thursday night in Game 6 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series.
They solved the best player on the planet in LeBron James, but a bigger test may lie ahead in the Orlando Magic, who have won their last 14 games, are 28-3 since the end of February and are coming off arguably the most dominant sweep in NBA playoff history.
After sweeping the Charlotte Bobcats in Round 1, the Magic breezed through the conference semifinals, wiping out the Atlanta Hawks (who incidentally had a 4-0 record against the Celtics this season) by an average of 25.3 points per game, the greatest PPG differential in a four-game sweep in league history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
In running the table against both Charlotte and Atlanta, Orlando became the third team since the first round expanded to a best-of-seven in 2003 to sweep through the first two rounds of the playoffs (the 2005 Miami Heat and 2009 Cavaliers did it as well).
The Celtics, who were eliminated by the Magic in seven games in last year's conference semifinals without an injured Kevin Garnett, were 1-3 against Orlando this season, their lone victory a Christmas Day win played without Paul Pierce.
Magic center Dwight Howard made 27 of his 32 shots in Orlando's series against Atlanta for a field goal percentage of 84.4, which is the highest in a playoff series in NBA history (minimum 4 FG per game).
Celtics center Kendrick Perkins, however, has a history of playing Howard tough, so don't expect those kinds of numbers in the next round. Perkins and the Celtics held Howard to 54 percent from the floor in last year's playoffs. His field goal percentage was even lower (47 percent) in his four games against Boston this season.
"You know they've got the big, young fellow down low," said Celtics forward Rasheed Wallace, referring to Howard. "They have three bigs also, in Dwight, [Marcin] Gortat and Brandon [Bass] but we actually have four or five bigs. It's going to be a good matchup."
Just as Garnett missed last year's series, so too did the Magic's floor leader, point guard Jameer Nelson, who has averaged 20.5 points per game in the playoffs so far, way up from his 12.6 average during the regular season.
Here's a deeper look at some of the impressive numbers the surging Magic have put up at the end of the regular season and through the first two rounds of the playoffs:
• They beat the Hawks by 43 points in Game 1, their second-largest margin of victory in a playoff game in team history, and by 30 points in Game 3, Atlanta's worst-ever home postseason loss.
• Orlando's eight straight victories to open up the playoffs represent the fourth-longest winning streak to begin a postseason. Only the Lakers teams of 2001 (11 straight), 1989 (11 straight) and 1982 (nine straight) had longer opening streaks. Two of those teams went on to win NBA titles and the third lost in the finals.
• Orlando is allowing opponents to score an NBA-low 83.8 points per game this postseason. Boston is second at 92.4.
• The Magic made 45 three-pointers against the Bobcats in the first round and 44 against the Hawks in the conference semifinals. Remarkably, those are the two highest totals for three-pointers made in a single playoff series in NBA history. Orlando shot at least 23 three-pointers in each of the four games against Atlanta. Let that one sink in.
• Howard's 12.5 rebounds per game average from Feb. 28 through the end of the regular season was the best in the NBA and his average of 2.7 blocks per game was second in the league during that stretch.
• Vince Carter had the highest plus-minus per 48 minutes of any player in the NBA from Feb. 28 to the end of the regular season (plus-16.5).