By A. Sherrod Blakely
ORLANDO, Fla. — The Orlando Magic and their revamped roster came through with just enough big plays in the final two minutes to hand the Boston Celtics an 86-78 loss.
And yet if you listen to the Celtics afterward, you would think they just lost to the Los Angeles Clippers and not a team that, when the season began, was on everyone's short list as a title contender.
"They can't beat us," said Boston's Glen Davis after Orlando, well, beat them.
Davis clarified his words moments later by adding, "they came out and played better than us today, but if you are talking about a seven-game series, I don't think they can beat us."
Indeed, it's hard to read too much into Saturday's game.
The Boston Celtics came in having won 14 straight despite a rash of injuries. And the Orlando Magic recently made a pair of blockbuster trades, so chemistry is still a work in progress for their squad.
However, there's one thing that both sides can agree on.
Between now and the playoffs, both of these teams will improve.
"It's a very emotional game," said Magic coach Stan Van Gundy. "We have a history with them. I've always said, people talk a lot about rivalries, but rivalries are really forged in the playoffs. And now we've played them two years in a row in the playoffs. So you're talking about teams … we went seven games and six games so we've played them, what, 21 times in the last two years going into today. I mean, you've seen each other a lot, the games have been meaningful, it's that intense emotion."
And while there's sure to be some degree of mutual respect, there's little doubt that the Celtics feel they are the superior team.
Despite Dwight Howard being arguably the best center in the NBA, Boston limited him to just six points on 1-for-4 shooting and never used a double team.
When you talked to Celtics players afterward, limiting Howard was not a surprise nor was it something they felt was overly impressive.
"I have been playing Dwight since 2004, when I was playing against him in the AAU circuit," Davis said. "His game hasn't really changed. It's not like has a jump shot, or a new spin move. He has the same moves since high school. He has the same post moves."
Kevin Garnett, a former league defensive player of the Year, didn't see the C's doing anything special against Howard, either.
"I thought everybody who guarded him did a good job on him," Garnett said. "It is not like he has a ton of moves. He is either going to jump-hook you, spin-lob … he is very predictable."
One thing you can predict now is that if these two meet again in the postseason, you can bank on it being even more physical and even more testier than Saturday's game.
"They are a good team, but we match up well with everybody," said Shaquille O'Neal. "We just need to keep doing what we are doing. If we do that, we will be fine."
O'Neal added, "we just shot ourselves in the foot by not making the extra pass or rotating. It was just one of those days for us and we have to get it back. We will be fine. We beat ourselves today in the last … 120 seconds of the game."
A. Sherrod Blakely can be reached at email@example.com. Follow Sherrod on Twitter at http://twitter.com/sherrodbcsn