by Jeff Fox

The Orlando Magic have learned the hard way the dangers of relying on Rafer “Madness” Alston as their floor general.  Skip can get a little emotional at times, and after adjusting Eddie House’s headband for him in Game 2, the Magic went into Game 3 with (gulp) Anthony Johnson as their starting point guard.  In fact, if you told a Magic fan a month ago that their starting backcourt in a crucial playoff game would be Johnson and J.J. Redick, they might be ready to jump off of Space Mountain.  At least Game 3 was on the Magic’s home court.

(One more thing before we get into the actual game action – when did Glen Davis’ name get officially changed to Big Baby?  Its humorous hearing even the most buttoned-down announcers refer to him as Big Baby).

The Magic’s makeshift backcourt mentioned above had a so-so start to the game.  Johnson had a nice assist and a rare dunk, but Redick continued his ongoing battle with the whistle, getting two quick ones before the game was four minutes old.  Surprisingly, without Mr. Streetball Alston suited up, the first quarter of this game was about as streetball as the NBA gets.  It was all fastbreaks, dunks, blocked shots and rough, chippy play - leave your fancy jumpshot at home.  22-18 for the home guys after one.

It took until 9:30 left in the second quarter before our first jumpshot of the night fell, this one from the hot hand of House.  Orlando then put on the defensive clamps, led by the Defensive Player of the Year, and opened up a 10-point lead in the quarter.  Dwight Howard was a force on the other end of the floor also, helping put two of the C’s big men – Baby and Brian Scalabrine – into foul trouble.  Bad omen for the Celtics – Ray Allen and Paul Pierce only outscored Johnson by one point (12-11) at the end of the half.  It all adds up to a 12-point lead for Orlando.

The Magic blew the lid off the joint to start the third.  Howard was a menace at both ends of the floor (have you ever seen someone get so high to block a shot?) and Orlando totally outplayed Boston.  Outshot, outworked, out-defended.  But when Howard got in foul trouble and had to go to the bench near the end of the quarter, Boston decided to show up.  Led by Paul Pierce (remember him?) and a still unconscious Dr. House, Boston cut the lead to nine with 12 minutes left to play in regulation.

Not only were things unravelling on the floor for Orlando, but Johnson and Stan Van Gundy got into it on the bench between the quarters and Johnson spent the rest of his night catching splinters.  The chippy, physical play continued in the fourth, with endless whistles and a parade to the free throw line.   With Orlando up by 14 with about seven minutes to play the game got really bizarre – House missed a shot and then, even more amazingly, drew a charge on defense.  The game continued to play out in the Bizzaro World, as even with Howard on the bench in foul trouble Orlando pulled away with the game.  Thanks to the hot shooting of the 100 Million Dollar Man Rashard Lewis, Orlando held serve on their home court, 117-96.

Its pretty simple to figure out how Boston lost the game – their “new” Big Three of Pierce, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo shot a combined 16 for 45 from the field.  You don’t have to be a math major to realize that those numbers won’t ever equal a W.

Read more from Jeff Fox at The Hoops Manifestoand CollegeHoops.net.