|Celtics lead series 1-0|
ORLANDO — The worst thing that was required Sunday from the last playoff-perfect team was that it was forced to play perfect.
The Magic fell so far behind that its late comeback needed to be error-free, every shot had to fall and every defensive stand had to produce a stop.
You can perhaps pull that off against lesser teams, but not against the Celtics, who wrote the book on how to win titles.
The fact is, the Magic had to mount a furious fourth-quarter rally just to make its 92-88 home loss seem respectable in the opening game of the best-of-seven Eastern Conference final.
This was as thorough a four-point beating as you'll ever see. The Magic never led, dug a 20-point hole and looked as if it was caught flat-footed when the Celtics charged out with a Paul Pierce haymaker of a 3-pointer.
Vince Carter shook his head in the Magic dressing room, mentioning the "Celtics' intensity" several times. "We weren't on their level in the beginning, more than anything," he said.
Carter was on the spot as the playoff go-to guy, and he was ready. He attacked the Celtics defense and had 23 points.
Point guard Jameer Nelson scored 20 and grabbed nine rebounds. But the club that hit so many opponents with so many weapons scrambled looking for ways to score.
Idle for five days after sweeps of the Bobcats and the Hawks, Orlando looked like a team for the most part that hadn't been challenged beyond intrasquad scrimmages. For a long time, nobody has pushed the Magic around the way the Celtics did.
"You don't want to make excuses," guard J.J. Redick said. "When you don't do it for a few days, you forget how much you have to put into it, and we didn't put enough into this game."
Gone is the Magic's 8-0 postseason (and franchise) record. Gone is its 14-game winning streak dating to the regular season. And more, important, gone is homecourt advantage.
The Magic lost homecourt to Philadelphia in the first round last year and rallied from a 3-2 deficit to oust the Celtics last postseason. "We always find a way to bounce back," center Dwight Howard said.
"I think it was a wake-up call that we really needed," Carter said. "Now it's what are we going to do about it? How do we respond?"
Game 2 is Tuesday, and coach Stan Van Gundy must find ways to solve a fierce defense that turned Orlando's famed inside-out offense, well, inside out.
"I honestly say we lost ourselves," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said of his team's struggles entering the postseason. "I think we've found ourselves again."
Boston's assortment of big men again handled Howard (13 points). It was able to cover the Magic's 3-point shooters, who missed 17-of-22 from long range.
And the Magic committed 18 turnovers (seven by Howard) for 21 points, a sure death knell.
It was the Magic's lowest scoring output of the postseason.
Led by curmudgeons Pierce (22 points) and Ray Allen (25), the Celtics finally weakened, outscored 30-18 in the final period.
Trailing by as many as 16 in the fourth and 11 with five minutes left, the Magic finally made enough desperation plays to cut it to 88-83 on Redick's jumper. Then, with 66 seconds to go, Redick had an open 3 that came up short. "That would have been big," he said.
Everything else in the last seconds was a lament for the Magic. "We could just never put things together," Van Gundy said.
The Celtics largely answered the Magic to the end when Allen fittingly closed the show with two free throws.
"Nobody's perfect," the Magic's Rashard Lewis said.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.
BOSTON (92): Pierce 6-8 8-10 22, Garnett 4-14 0-0 8, Perkins 2-6 0-2 4, Rondo 4-10 0-0 8, R.Allen 8-16 7-7 25, Wallace 3-9 5-6 13, T.Allen 3-5 0-0 6, Davis 3-6 0-1 6, Finley 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 33-74 20-26 92.
ORLANDO (88): Barnes 1-4 0-0 2, Lewis 2-10 2-2 6, Howard 3-10 7-12 13, Nelson 8-18 2-2 20, Carter 9-18 5-6 23, Pietrus 1-5 1-2 4, J.Williams 2-2 0-0 5, Redick 3-7 2-2 9, Gortat 3-3 0-0 6. Totals 32-77 19-26 88.
3-Point Goals—Boston 6-14 (Pierce 2-3, Wallace 2-5, R.Allen 2-5, Perkins 0-1), Orlando 5-22 (Nelson 2-7, J.Williams 1-1, Redick 1-2, Pietrus 1-4, Barnes 0-1, Carter 0-1, Lewis 0-6). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—Boston 45 (Garnett 11), Orlando 54 (Howard 12). Assists—Boston 21 (Rondo 8), Orlando 10 (Carter, Lewis, Nelson, Howard 2). Total Fouls—Boston 25, Orlando 17. Technicals—Wallace, Howard, Orlando delay of game. A—17,461.