ORLANDO Close doesn't count in a lot of things including comebacks. Close counts for nothing in an NBA playoff series.
And this one is over.
"Unfortunately, 'almost,' doesn't count for anything," Orlando Magic center Glen Davis lamented.
Davis missed an eight-foot shot at the buzzer Saturday that could have tied the game and started a second overtime much like teammate Jameer Nelson could have won the game at the end of regulation with a similar shot -- and the Magic were left with an insurmountable, 3-1, deficit in this first-round series against the Indiana Pacers.
Game 5 is Tuesday in Indianapolis.
The Pacers won, 101-99, behind David West, who had 26 points and 12 rebounds, and a roster that is far superior than what the Magic can offer now.
As if the Magic needed any reminder of what center Dwight Howard means to the franchise while he is rehabilitating 3,000 miles away in Los Angeles -- they have received it loud and clear throughout this series. He means everything, and more.
Without him, they really didn't ever stand a chance against the No. 3 seeded Pacers, despite that Game 1 victory. Without him, they are the Washington Wizards or worse. Without him as if it's any surprise the Pacers are better at each of the five starting positions.
No wonder why Howard grumbled so much this season about his supporting cast. As this series attests, it just isn't very good.
Without Howard around the basket, the Magic made West look like an All-Star again, even though he hasn't been an All-Star in three years. They made gawky center Roy Hibbert look better than he is. They made everyone understand why they spent so much effort, and bent over backwards, this season begging Howard to sign a contract extension.
"He (Howard) would have made a tremendous difference in this series," admitted Pacers coach Frank Vogel on Saturday.
Even with a miraculous fourth-quarter turnaround Saturday, playing as well as they possibly could when they erased a 19-point deficit with 8:12 remaining, the Magic still were a distant second. They were exposed as a team without enough talent to really be considered playoff worthy. It doesn't bode well for a franchise that may be forced into trading him.
"No matter what the score was, we felt like we could impose our will (against them)," West said. "We intend on getting what we want."
It was Hibbert who dominated around the basket in the first half, and West who did it in the second half. The Pacers, though, thought an 82-63 lead early in the fourth quarter was enough, opening the door for an unexpected Magic rally.
After being embarrassed at home in Game 3, the Magic were on the path to another lopsided loss when they suddenly discovered what might work.
It was when the Magic made themselves smaller than ever, using small forward Hedo Turkoglu as power forward and guard Jason Richardson at small forward, along with guards Jameer Nelson and J.J. Redick.
Redick and Davis starting clicking with a two-man game, and everyone else followed. The Pacers, who dominated through the first three periods, lost their way at both ends, looking as disoriented as the Magic were in Game 3.
The Magic never led Saturday after the first period. The rallied to tie near the end of regulation. They missed a golden opportunity to win in regulation -- and cap an amazing comeback -- when Nelson missed his fallaway jumper from 12-feet away in the final second.
They got that opportunity when Redick tied it 89 with a 3-pointer, and the Pacers committed a shot-clock violation, leaving the Magic with the ball and :12 remaining. His look at the basket was good. His shot was short.
Same for Davis when the Magic had the ball with :02 remaining and trailing by two. Davis was short by a hair.
"I just wish one of those shots would have dropped," said Magic coach Stan Van Gundy. "Our guys had worked so hard. When you're down 2-1 (in a series) and down by 19 points, it would be easy to just cave, and we didn't do that."
The Pacers led 46-44 at intermission and blitzed the Magic in the third period for the fourth consecutive game. It wasn't until that final eight minutes of the fourth that the found a spark.
"What do you say? They all know the score. It's 3-1 and it's a matter of mindset," Van Gundy said. "And whether you think you're still in the series or not. Based on what they did down 19 points, my guess is that they're not going to quit."
Maybe they won't quit, but they clearly aren't good enough to win.