Magic vs. Celtics: Game 7 questions
Game 7. Two of the most magical words in sports. And now we have two Game 7s: twice the fun, twice the tension, twice the drama.
Our experts have weighed in on both series. See below for their thoughts on Magic-Celtics Game 7 (Sunday, 8 ET, TNT) and click here for their analysis of Rockets-Lakers (Sunday, 3 ET, ABC).
1. What has been the most surprising thing about this series?
Henry Abbott, ESPN TrueHoop: The injury-strained Boston Celtics roster is in full "junkyard dog" mode. Not a team left in the playoffs would trade active rosters with the Celtics. But not a team wants to face them, either, because they're taking scrappy to a whole new level.
J.A. Adande, ESPN.com: That the Celtics are still standing. Coming into Game 6, Rajon Rondo had played 500 minutes in the playoffs. Ray Allen 481, and so on. As you might guess, five of the top 6 leaders in playoff minutes are Celtics.
I've been at this long enough to recognize that even covering a seven-game series is draining. Can't even imagine playing in two of them, back-to-back.
EXPERT Q & A: ROCKETS-LAKERS
The Lakers and Rockets are on their last legs, too. Who will take Game 7 and advance to Round 3? Expert Q & A
Chris Broussard, ESPN The Magazine: I'm surprised that Ray Allen has played so poorly, averaging just 11.5 points on 30 percent shooting, especially since J.J. Redick has spent a significant amount of time guarding him.
I'm also surprised that -- before Game 6 -- Dwight Howard had not put his stamp on this series. He entered Game 6 averaging just 16 points a game and hadn't gotten Kendrick Perkins and that thin Celtics front line in foul trouble.
Ric Bucher, ESPN The Magazine: (A) The caterwauling over Dwight Howard not getting touches, for two reasons: one, their offense hasn't run through him all year, so why is it suddenly an issue that it's not going through him at crunch time in a playoff game? Two, the Rockets traded Rafer Alston in part because he wouldn't, or couldn't, consistently get the ball to Yao Ming. Why would anybody think he wouldn't be just as quick to look off Howard, who has half Yao's offensive ability?
(B) A Celtics' PF rotation relying heavily on Glen Davis and Brian Scalabrine holding its own against the quicker, longer Orlando Magic.
John Hollinger, ESPN.com: The fact that nobody can make a 3-pointer. I wrote yesterday that they had combined to shoot 32 percent from downtown this series; last night they were even worse, at 9-for-44. These were two of the best-shooting teams in the league in the regular season, so color me puzzled.
Chris Sheridan, ESPN.com: Jackie Moon, aka Brian Scalabrine, the former towel-waver who has become a key cog on the Celtics' front line, and who has played reasonably well, giving the C's another deep shooting threat who also can defend bigs. Also, we should not forget he is playing after suffering three concussions. That's one hard head.
Marc Stein, ESPN.com: After the soul-crushing way they lost Game 4 and Game 5, I didn't see the Magic pulling out Game 6. Especially not with a Game 6 comeback in crunch time. I put that surprise up there with Boston being able to survive all series with a frontcourt trio of Perkins, Big Baby and Scalabrine.
2. In Game 7, what is a key or two we should watch for?
Abbott: Orlando has had this tendency to give up big leads. I think it might have something to do with the team slowing down to preserve a lead. 82games.com tells us that in the first 10 seconds of the shot clock Orlando has an effective field goal percentage (that stat credits 3-pointers as being worth 1.5 times as much as 2-pointers) of close to 57 percent. In the last eight seconds, the percentage is comfortably under 50 percent. That squares with what we see, too: At the end of the shot clock we get stuff like Mickael Pietrus step-back 3s.
Adande: Kind of ties into Question 1, but Ray Allen's shot. Can he regain his legs? Hard to believe the Celts even made it to Game 7 with him shooting 30 percent for the series. If he finds his stroke it'll be over for Orlando.
Broussard: Howard is a huge key. He must be as aggressive as he was in Game 6 on the offensive boards, and the Magic must make a concerted effort to get the ball to him (as they did in Game 6), as well as to Rashard Lewis in the post at times.
Allen has to step up and have, if not a big game, then an average Ray Allen game (which is about 18 points). In the Celtics' three losses this series, he has failed to score in double figures in each. He has averaged more than 15 ppg in their three wins.
Bucher: Dwight Howard's shot-blocking presence and Ray Allen's presence, period. Since Game 1, Howard hasn't blocked a shot in BankNorth. Allen, meanwhile, is 2 for his last 22 3-point attempts.
Hollinger: Ray Allen and Hedo Turkoglu. Both are major go-to guys for their teams, and both have struggled mightily in this series. If one of them can bust out in Game 7, his team will have a huge leg up.
Sheridan: Jitters. We saw them from the Magic when they blew that big lead at the end of Game 5, and it is hard to pick anyone off that roster as a guy who absolutely must have the ball in his hands late in the game. For Boston, no such concerns with Paul Pierce.
Stein: The Celts have home-court advantage and a crucial extra day of rest since Game 7 isn't until Sunday. Two huge factors in their favor. But what happens with Howard is inevitably where it all hinges. Can he stay out of foul trouble? Will he make his free throws? How close will he be to Game 6 Dwight?
3. Which player, coach or team has the most to lose Sunday?
Abbott: Shaquille O'Neal and Dwight Howard have tag-teamed Stan Van Gundy in the media, so it feels a little like the Magic coach might have something special to prove. Meanwhile, thanks to the injuries, there would be no shame in a Celtics loss. But I'll say the Celtics anyway, because they have their team's special sense of destiny on the line. Hasn't it seemed, for the past two years, like the Celtics are essentially a blessed franchise? They have been in pulse-pounding series almost every step of the way through two deep playoff runs. So far, no one has figured out how to beat them. The franchise's swagger is on the line.
Adande: Stan Van Gundy. Sure, there's a lot on Dwight Howard's shoulders. But his shoulders are bigger. And he's a 23-year-old rising star who has four years and almost $69 million left on his contract. A lot easier to make Van Gundy the fall guy.
Broussard: I'd say Stan Van Gundy, and then Dwight Howard. I don't think Van Gundy will lose his job if the Magic fall, but he will enter next season with major questions concerning his ability to lead a team all the way, and if Orlando goes through a rough stretch, it could cost him his job.
Howard's game will also be placed beneath the microscope, and he'll be criticized for his lack of post moves and his inability to expose the depleted Celtics' one-on-one coverage.
Bucher: Dwight Howard, Stan Van Gundy and the Orlando Magic.
Howard put himself on the spot with his self-anointment as a dominant offensive player.
Van Gundy, fairly or otherwise, has Shaq's "Master of Panic" innuendo to live down. Nothing would do that more than a Game 7 win on the road.
As for the Magic, while their key components are relatively young, they might not have Hedo Turkoglu back, and he's the closest thing they have to a go-to guy at crunch time. The Magic might never see an easier path to the conference finals than this one.
Hollinger: Nobody on the Celtics, certainly; they still have their championship rings. So I'll say Stan Van Gundy, just because of the perception that the Magic have the better team and should have won Game 5.
Sheridan: After a lot of thought, I'm going with Ray Allen. Remember that 51-point outburst in the first round that silenced all his annual postseason critics? Well, the good vibes have worn off. That was eons ago, and he hasn't had a great game in this series yet.
Stein: Don't think it's exactly breaking news to say Stan Van Gundy. I knew Shaq's master-of-panic speech was going to be a topic in the playoffs, but I wish I had a dime for each of the many NBA folks I've run into in the past week asking me if Stan's job is in jeopardy if Orlando doesn't win this series. Pressure on Boston is obviously minimal because of the KG-in-a-suit alibi.
4. Which team should win (or should have won) this series, and who wins Game 7?
Abbott: I picked Orlando before the series, and feel that on paper, without Kevin Garnett and Leon Powe, they have the better roster. But the Magic miss Jameer Nelson, and have had little periods when they didn't defend as well, which cost them Game 5. So wily Boston, with the home-court advantage, pulls it out.
Adande: Magic should have won. They had Game 1 handed to them, with Boston coming off the longest 7-game series ever only 48 hours earlier. They were one stop away from winning in Game 4, and needed only to milk a 10-point lead to the end in Game 5.
But the same lack of resolve or ability to finish off the Celtics will haunt Orlando in Game 7. A Game 7 in Boston is not the place for an unstable team to start a journey of self-discovery.
Broussard: I think Boston will win because of the intangibles -- poise, savvy, experience, home court. If this series were being played devoid of intangibles, Orlando would win, but the Magic's fragile mental state has cost them big-time in this series. Their Game 5 loss was a mental breakdown, pure and simple.
Bucher: The Magic should have won it in five, because they pose matchup problems on par with those Denver posed to Dallas. But that hasn't happened and now experience and poise take on added meaning in a Game 7. Add the home-court advantage, and it's the Celtics prevailing.
Hollinger: Orlando should already have won this thing 4-2, and despite the lack of a home-court advantage, I think they'll end up prevailing Sunday. Their defense in the second half of Game 6 was unbelievable; by my count, 16 of the 44 possessions ended without Boston hitting the rim, and there was a nearly 18-minute stretch where the Celtics had only one open shot. I believe that will carry over to Sunday.
Sheridan: The Magic should have and would have won this series already if not for the huge blown leads in Games 2 and 5. It is going to be tough to win in that building on what should be a raucous Sunday night, and I don't have confidence that they can hold a late lead.
But I picked 'em in this series, so I'm stuck with 'em. I hold my nose and say Magic by a point or two.
Stein: Boston's recent history of Game 7 successes, Rondo's increased comfort at home to get an extra jumper or two to drop and the Magic's deep-down knowledge that this series should already be over -- as well as the haunting memories of their repeated trouble holding leads against the Celts -- all add up to Boston-Cleveland in the East finals.