I’m not sure you can find a pulsation right now among Orlando’s trio of Dwight Howard, Vince Carter and Rashard Lewis.
With their backs against the proverbial wall, all three came out and laid a gigantic egg.
That’s $50 million that should have just stayed home and watched the Eastern Conference finals on television — because they were all bystanders on Saturday night in Boston’s 94-71 thrashing in Game 3.
Howard went through the first 11:51 without scoring as the Celtics took a 27-12 lead after the first quarter.
The NBA’s most dominant big man finished with a mere seven points in more than 39 minutes on the floor.
Lewis was virtually useless for the third consecutive game in the series, which the Celtics now lead 3-0 with an opportunity to close it out Monday night. Lewis had four points and is averaging five in the series.
Carter was the most productive of the threesome with 15 points, but he put up the goose egg in the first quarter and was a liability defensively.
In case you haven’t heard, no team has dug out of a 3-0 deficit in a best-of-seven NBA series.
“We’ve got to win one,” Carter said.
These teams don’t bear much resemblance to the ones that took the floor a year ago in the Eastern Conference semifinals, in which Orlando pounded Boston, 101-82, in Game 7 en route to an appearance in the NBA Finals.
The Celtics have Kevin Garnett this time around (he missed all of last postseason with a knee injury), and while he’s certainly not the K.G. of old, he’s still a key component who makes life easier for his teammates.
The Magic have replaced Hedo Turkoglu and Courtney Lee with Vin-sanity. Carter is a dynamic scorer who doesn’t do much else.
Turkoglu was sensational in the postseason a year ago. He even dished out a dozen assists and was clearly the most valuable player on the court in the decisive seventh game. Lee was critical in giving the Magic an offensive spark off the bench throughout the postseason.
That group seemed to mesh together and thrived as the hunter, sneaking up on its opponents.
Now, they have wilted as the hunted.
Orlando managed just a dozen points in the first quarter while shooting 4-for-17 from the field, and then put up a mere 13 points in the third quarter.
“They kicked our ass from start to finish,” Orlando’s Matt Barnes acknowledged. “They played harder and wanted it. They are what a good team is supposed to be.”
Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy attempted to take the lion’s share of the blame, saying he didn’t have the team “ready to play” and that “it’s my job,” but these aren’t a bunch of junior varsity kids who need a lesson in the magnitude of Saturday night’s game.
This game was Orlando’s season.
A win would have put the Magic right back in the series heading into a pivotal Game 4. Now it’s just a matter of when and not if.
While Orlando couldn’t score, the Celtics, on the other hand, were moving the ball with ease, getting open looks on the perimeter and also in the paint.
In fact, it looked so easy, I’m not sure diminutive Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker, sitting in the front row a few seats from Celtics coach Doc Rivers, wouldn’t have been able to make his way through Orlando’s defense — even with his surgically repaired knee.
The Celtics have ramped up their defense when it’s mattered most — and that’s what’s allowed them to move just one game from advancing to the Finals for the second time in three years.
But that’s not all.
“This being an older group, it’s probably easier for me to get their focus in the playoffs,” Rivers said. “The goal is right in front of them.”
This time, Celtics have Garnett in uniform, and while it’s not as though he has been a difference-maker, he has made a difference — if that makes sense.
He’s just another guy the Magic have to worry about.
Speedy point guard Rajon Rondo has been the catalyst for the Celtics, but he has had plenty of help. The Big Three may not be nearly as vaunted as they were two years ago, but Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Garnett are still formidable.
They are far from a one-man team — and are now on the verge of knocking off yet another NBA superstar.
First it was Dwyane Wade, then came LeBron James and now it’s Howard’s turn.
“I’m not surprised right now,” Howard said. “Right now, we’ve got to find ourselves. It seemed like our bodies were here but our minds and hearts weren’t. I don’t know what happened.”
“They’re a veteran team,” Lewis said of the Celtics. “They’re the same team.”