Friday, January 29, 2010

Boston Celtics 94 at Orlando Magic 96 - January 28, 2010

After taking a day off to rest yesterday, I got back to business today in Orlando. The Boston Celtics were in town to take on the Magic in a rematch of last year's Eastern Conference semi-finals. It was a nationally televised game and I decided to splurge to get a good seat to increase my chances of becoming a world famous sports traveler. Didn't work by the way.

The Arena

Amway Arena is located downtown, just off I-4. Lot parking is plentiful around the arena and costs $10. I stayed nearby so didn't have to worry about finding a spot, but when I took a walk around, I didn't notice any street parking in the immediate vicinity.

The arena is celebrating its 21st anniversary this week. In that time, it has seen numerous name changes, most notably the TD Waterhouse Centre between 1999 and 2006. Note that "Centre" uses the Canadian spelling as TD is a Canadian bank. Amway took over the naming rights in late 2006 and also has the rights to the new Amway Center, expected to open next season. The founder of Amway, Richard DeVos, is also the owner of the Magic.

Palm trees surround the arena

I find it surprising that the lifespan of an arena is now just 21 years. I guess the late 80s were the worst time to build - just before the sports boom that saw luxury suites and sky high ticket prices. Amway only has 26 suites, which is apparently not enough to keep the Magic competitive. It's interesting that 1989 is also when the Skydome was built in Toronto. Lauded at the time as the first retractable roof stadium, it is now considered a bit of a dinosaur in the stadium business. So perhaps Amway Arena has suffered the same fate.

The area surrounding the arena is devoid of anything useful. Across the main parking lot lies Lake Dot, but that is next to the Salvation Army and seemed to be a place where the less fortunate hang out during the day. Certainly dichotomous to have these people who need every penny living next to an arena where athletes are paid millions of dollars a year.

From Lake Dot

Inside the arena there is only one concourse with both seating bowls accessed from here. There are no luxury suites between the levels, so the upper deck is quite close to the court. As you walk around the concourse, you might notice the Central Florida Sports Hall of Fame, with notables including Arnold Palmer, who lives in Orlando.

The lower bowl is different than most basketball setups. All the end seats curve around the court and there aren't as many floor seats here. So the first row of these seats is also quite close, and the end zone seats aren't as bad as in other places.

The scoreboard is old and lacks any detail. There were no game stats displayed during play, instead they were shown at the end of each quarter. There was no out-of-town scoreboard anywhere.

There is a designated driver program which gives two sodas for free, a first. Otherwise there's not much point in detailing the food choices here as the arena will no longer be used for major sports after this season. I can tell you that the arena is up for sale, so if you have an extra $90 million lying around, you may want to consider it. But with the new Amway Center just a few blocks south, I'm not sure what use this place would be.

Overall, I enjoyed the game here. It's a cozier place than most new arenas and there isn't a bad seat here. I guess I have to visit again to see the new place, but I'm sure that the upper deck seats will be more expensive and further away.

The Game

The Celtics introductions

It was 80's night, which meant the Magic were wearing their old-style black pinstripe uniforms. They played 80's music all game long, but unfortunately, prices remained at their 2010 levels. The Magic dancers are shown below in their 80's garb.

ESPN described this game as a "Wild Finish in Orlando". It was an exciting ending, but the first 3 quarters were a foulfest - the game ended with 49 fouls, more than 1 a minute. There was no flow at any point. The officiating was really bad in this game in other ways too. On two occasions, Boston's Eddie House had 3-point baskets reviewed and reversed to 2-point shots. The game was nationally televised on TNT, so I guess the refs wanted some exposure too. Don't get me wrong, they did not affect the outcome of the game (Celtic fans might disagree as they drew 30 of those fouls), but they slowed it down. It took nearly 3 hours to complete!


Anyway, on to the recap. Boston was strong in the first quarter while Orlando was terrible, allowing the Celtics an 11-point lead. Both teams were equally bad in a 17-17 second period. The Magic finished the half shooting 33%, including 1/10 from 3-point range, and only 1 assist. Boston shot 49% and had 13 assists, and should have been winning by much more.

KG shoots from the outside

The 3rd quarter wasn't much better as both teams scored 21 points so Boston maintained an 11-point lead going into the final period. Orlando finally turned on the defense and used a couple of Jason Williams threes to move within 5. Dwight Howard then took over for the Magic, simply schooling Kendrick Perkins to make three straight hook shots. Perkins missed 3 free throws himself and Orlando was now down by 3.

Garnett made a great no look pass from this position

Rashard Lewis followed two Kevin Garnett FTs with a 3 and after Rasheed Wallace missed a jumper, Marcin Gortat made a jumper to tie the game at 84 and send the crowd into a frenzy.

KG guards Superman

J.J. Redick was then fouled on a 3-point play and made all of his shots to give the Magic their first lead of the game. But the Celtics did not give up and a Paul Pierce 3 followed by a Rajon Rondo runner made it 94-91 Boston with just 51 seconds left.

Paul Pierce double teamed

Redick, who had turned the ball over on a bad pass on a previous possession, decided to stick to his strength, tying the game at 94 with a trey (below).

After Ray Allen missed a three of his own, Orlando called a 20-second timeout. Their designed play failed and Lewis ended up with the ball, guarded by Garnett. Lewis ran toward the rim and there was no weak-side help - an easy lay-up gave the Magic a 96-94 lead with just 1.3 seconds left. Boston had one chance, but a 3-point attempt from Wallace missed badly and Orlando won 96-94.

I'm not sure how Orlando overcame a 14-point deficit in 11 minutes but they scored 35 points in that span. It's amazing that a team can stink it up for 3 quarters and win by playing well in the last 12 minutes.

This was a fun game, helped by a great seat and a nice comeback by the home team, defeating the Celtics who I do not admire. This was the 3rd and final NBA game on this trip. All three weren't decided until the final play with the other two decided by a single point. I'd be hard pressed to find 3 closer games between top teams. There's no doubt basketball is a fascinating game, but you really need to sit close to appreciate the athleticism on display.

Other Thoughts

One funny play happened when Howard stole a pass and immediately sent an outlet pass to the referee. With Orlando wearing their their black uni's, I think the referee's dark grey shirts might slightly resemble a Magic jersey, and Howard saw this out of the corner of his eye. Everybody got a good laugh out of that one. It even made the week's Not Top 10 on SportsCenter.

I should mention that the crappy Kia promotion I saw in Miami is here too. It's known as the Kia Performance Challenge and at least this time they selected a guy who could hit the rim. He still missed all his FT chances.

When I went to the box office, there was a single ticket in the first row above the tunnel. It was quite expensive, but I've rarely had the opportunity to sit in such a seat and having missed the Lightning game the night before, I decided to take it. It was worth it, as the pictures here should attest. It's such a different experience sitting so close in basketball. There was nobody in front of me, and nobody getting up during the game. Not something I can afford regularly, but coming all this way from Japan, it's worth an extra couple of bucks.

Fans here were good and stayed to the end for the most part. This is their only big league team, and they support them. I don't think having Vince Carter will put them over the top for the title, but they are entertaining. Will be interesting to see how they do in the new arena.

Next Up

I've got another full day in Orlando, and I'll cap it off with an Orlando Titans lacrosse game. Then I'm driving to Atlanta on Saturday, hoping to stop in at Mercer University to watch an NCAA basketball battle. Sunday I fly to Pittsburgh to meet up with Gary and the King and see an NHL finals rematch between Detroit and the Penguins. Monday I fly back to Japan, thus ending 18 great days of roadtripping.

Keep checking back for updates!



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