By Johnny Mann
I can hear the periodic screams and thunderous noisemakers as I get closer and closer to the court. I pick up my notes and guides and head out in time to see Dwight Howard throw down a monstrous dunk that sends the crowd into a frenzy. I’m a little late but as soon as I come out of the tunnel I’m engulfed in the playoff atmosphere as if I had a jersey on. One look into the sea of fanatics decked out in blue and white screaming at the top of their lungs and you understand instantly what home court is all about. It’s less than halfway through the opening period and the Magic have jumped out to another quick first quarter start leading the Raptors 20-6. Turkoglu and Bosh exchange baskets before Calderon hits a 3 and follows it with a lay-up over the man-child. That’s about it for the Raptors offense though as the Magic end the 1st with Dooling and Howard extending the lead to 35-18.
The Magic get a little O from Adonal Foyle while Howard gets a breather but it doesn’t take long before Bosh begins to take advantage of that mismatch as Toronto works their way back into the game. With Bosh attacking Foyle and drawing a double team his shooters begin to get a few open looks. Kapono hits a 3 and then gets a floater over Howard when he re-enters. Although the Magic are periodically getting threes from Bogans and Dooling it seems inevitable that the Raps are going to turn this into a serious ballgame. Guarding Bogans in the corner with an invisible man, however, is not exactly helping their efforts. Sam Mitchell switches to a backcourt of Delfino and Calderon and they come in and change up the tempo. Bosh is getting his and Kapono is hitting some cold blooded threes that are taking the wind out of the hostile crowd. Jameer’s Nelson’s 3 toward the end of the half keeps the Raptors at bay 51-46 only to be upended by a Hedo flagrant on Bosh. Bosh makes both but Raps turnover the ball on the following play. Howard has really worked the jump hook into his game and banks one in over Bosh. Without even flinching Bosh comes back down the court and hits a pull-up 3 which cuts the lead to two. Delfino ties it up but the Magic end the half with Lewis going to the line and Bogans hitting a last second layup to keep the Magic ahead 59-57. D. Howard already has a double-double and Bosh is carrying Toronto with 23.
The Raptors start out the 3rd on a 7-0 run to take the lead. The backcourt of Delfino and Calderon is clearly giving the Magic problems with their driving and three point shooting ability. The Magic come back behind a Jameer Nelson 3 and a Dwight Howard jam. Now the game really begins. The combo of Nelson and Howard extend the lead to 5 and the crowd begins to rumble once again. Nelson hits back to back 3s to give the Magic a 9 point edge but picks up foul number 4 and takes a seat. Arroyo replaces him and gets the assist of the night as he fakes right towards the foul line drawing two defenders and clearing the lane for Howard before he switches back towards the baseline and passes it to Howard who makes a lay-up and gets fouled. Howard’s fired up but gets a tech and misses his free throw. Crowd is letting the ref have it as Bosh gets a reverse lay-up and Calderon ends the quarter with a bucket keeping the Raptors in it 83-78.
Magic are trying to put the Raps away but they keep hanging around. Howard hits a lay-up and Lewis backs down Kapono for an easy bucket. Lewis has been quiet most of the game but takes over the scoring with Howard and Nelson on the bench. Calderon starts another 7-0 run for the Raptors. Bargnani awakens and hits a jumper followed by a long three to cut the lead to 89-87. Howard gets fouled and goes to the line and his ridiculous stat line pops up, 27 and 18 with 2 blocks and a number of second thoughts as the guards decided taking the ball to the hoop might not be a good idea. Another 20-20 is all but inevitable.
With the intensity level through the roof the last few minutes were tense back and forth basketball that included a Howard dunk followed by Bosh hitting a j, 2 threes from Bogans, a lay-up from Lewis and back to back to back threes from Delfino and Calderon which tied the game at 100 with under 2 minutes to go. Delfino goes 1-2 at the line and Turkoglu makes a circus lay-up to keep the Magic up by 1 with 30 seconds left. Bosh takes it at Howard but is blocked and Hedo is fouled. He makes both but Delfino quickly scores on a lay-up. Nine seconds left and all the Magic have to do is hold. They inbound the ball and Dooling commits and offensive foul!! Crowd is livid but that won’t save the Magic. With nine seconds left they give it to Bosh who gets a pretty good look but misses. Game Over 104-103.
Magic go up 2-0 but they are going to have a tough time in Toronto. Howards has another monster game with 29-20. Bosh also had 29 but scored only 6 in the second half. In the post game interview Sam Mitchell promises changes in the lineup so Orlando better get used to seeing a lot more of Delfino and Calderon. Even though Stan Van Gundy sees the silver lining in this gutsy win he says he not even remotely comfortable with a 2-0 lead. Don’t be surprised if the series is tied when they head back to Orlando.