Magic live to play another day

Vince Carter was brought to Orlando to be the guy with the ball in his hands in crunch-time, but the overpaid offseason acquisition was merely a decoy in the waning minutes – and it was the two guys who have spent the most time with the franchise that refused to let the season end in utter embarrassment.

Dwight Howard showed why he’s the most talented young big man in the league and Jameer Nelson showed that this team does, in fact, have a measure of heart and toughness.

The duo combined for 55 points, 21 rebounds and nine assists as the Magic lived another day with a 96-92 overtime win in Boston on Monday night.

Now the series returns to Orlando for Game 5 on Wednesday night.

"There’s no pressure on us at all,” Boston’s Ray Allen said following the loss.

And there won’t be.

The Celtics won’t become the second team from Boston to blow a 3-0 series lead after the Bruins pulled off the improbable tank job earlier in the month.

This Orlando team got one.

So what.

Rajon Rondo was a complete no-show and although Paul Pierce finished with 32 points, he made a couple of poor decisions with the game on the line – the first a costly turnover at the end of regulation and then failing to recognize the hot hand in Allen in overtime.

Otherwise, this series would have been history.

But the Magic did earn a measure of respect with the victory – which means that Celtics fans can toss those brooms back in the closet and will need to postpone the celebration for a second NBA Finals appearance in three years for at least another game.

Rashard Lewis wasn’t quite as brutal as he’s been the first three games of the series, but he was still fairly ineffective for most of the night and finished with just 13 points.

However, he looked like a bona-fide star next to Carter – who finished with just three points in more than 30 minutes.

Carter was the guy who was supposed to take the big shots when he was acquired on June 26 of last year in a deal that sent Courtney Lee packing and also ensured Hedo Turkoglu would be playing elsewhere.

"Vince gives us a veteran, go-to scoring presence, especially at the end of games,” Magic general manager Otis Smith said upon dealing for Carter.

The only presence Carter should have had was sitting on the bench – which was the case for a portion of the stretch drive in the fourth quarter – because that was where he was most effective.

This team was far more dangerous a year ago with Turkoglu and Lee, when the Magic advanced to the NBA Finals.

Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy was accurate in his assessment that his team played harder in Game 4, but that wasn’t all that difficult after watching the lackluster effort a couple of nights earlier.

Van Gundy said this wasn’t just about winning a game to save face. It was one step towards potentially making history and becoming the first NBA team to come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a playoff series.

"If you don’t believe you’re going to win the series, then it’s just too easy to let go,” Van Gundy said. “Yeah, you’ve got to play it one game at a time – but you have to have a belief somewhere you can win the series.”

Orlando’s J.J. Redick casually made reference to the Boston Red Sox magical comeback in 2004 over the New York Yankees in which they overcame an 0-3 deficit.

"You never know what can happen,” Redick said with a half-smile.

True, but this team just doesn’t have that “it” factor.

Leadership, toughness and heart. They show up in spurts, but now it can no longer be one of those on-and-off aspects.

It must sustain for the next three games.

Nelson played with far more assertiveness than he had all series. He forced the issue and made plays for himself and his teammates. Howard dominated Kendrick Perkins and the rest of Boston’s big men in the paint.

The Magic have a measure of confidence with a victory and also a return to the Sunshine State, but you’d never know it by walking into the subdued locker room following the game.

"It’s possible,” Carter said.

Anything’s possible, but no one truly believes it.