Philadelphia 76ers 100, Orlando Magic 98

In a disappointing start to their 2009 NBA playoffs, the Orlando Magic blew an 18-point, third-quarter lead to the Philadelphia 76ers and lost Game 1, and homecourt advantage, by a final score of 100-98. Andre Iguodala's long jumper with 2.2 seconds remaining proved to be the difference, and Hedo Turkoglu's fadeaway three at the buzzer was well off the mark. As Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel notes, it was the Magic's biggest blown lead of the season, having previously handed away a 15-point lead against the Memphis Grizzlies on Halloween.

Team Pace Efficiency eFG% FT Rate OReb% TO Rate
76ers 86 116.3 55.6% 13.8 20.0 11.6
Magic 113.4 52.0% 25.0 18.9 11.6

Before I continue, let me say that it's hard to imagine a worse start to the postseason for Orlando. If the Magic can't beat the 76ers when they have an 18-point lead, at home, on the first game of the postseason... when exactly are they going to beat them? Understand that this game was in the bag for Orlando. A double-digit victory appeared to be at hand. But when Dwight Howard--who finished with a brilliant 31 points on 11-of-13 shooting, 16 boards, and 2 blocks--headed to the locker room to have his eye examined with 1:12 to play in the third, Philly scored on its next two possessions, not counting Iguodala's halfcourt heave at the buzzer. 38 seconds into the fourth quarter, Royal Ivey drilled a trey to bring Philadelphia to within 11. And that, right there, is when I knew the Magic were in trouble.

They needed to put this game away, but without Howard in the game to anchor the offense, they could not put points on the board. They also missed his defense, and it showed in the final period, wherein the Sixers rarely took a contested shot and moved the ball with ease. A team as offensively inept as Philadelphia should not be knifing through the league's most-efficient defense in April. That's on the Magic for letting up. Really, the only explanation is a lack of effort and/or focus. How else to explain this abomination of a fourth-quarter performance?

Team Pace Efficiency eFG% FT Rate OReb% TO Rate
76ers 22 159.1 86.8% 10.5 28.6 9.1
Magic 87.0 42.1% 15.8 20.0 18.3

The table essentially speaks for itself. Orlando played like a lottery team in that final period. The Sacramento Kings would be hard-pressed to "defend" and "execute" in this way. I'm disinclined to search the site's archives at the moment, but I know I've used the phrase "At least it can't get much worse" several times regarding this team. And this time, I mean it moreso than ever before. This is rock-bottom.

Orlando did not lose the game specifically in the fourth quarter, though. Any number of made baskets earlier in the game could have made the difference. If Rafer Alston doesn't miss several fairly uncontested layups, Orlando wins. If some of Rashard Lewis' three-pointers don't rattle around and out, Orlando wins. If Louis Williams misses even one of his three-pointers--a career 31.5% shooter from long distance, he went 3-of-3 today--Orlando wins. You see where I'm headed. Any number of breaks could have swung this game Orlando's way. Problem is, with an 18-point, third-quarter lead, it never should have come to "any number of breaks." Live and learn.

The Magic have Monday, Tuesday, and some of Wednesday to recover and make adjustments, the most important of which is finding ways to get more open three-point looks against Philly's defense, which is reluctant to double-team Howard. As for their defense, I'm actually not as worried as I probably should be. The Sixers are unlikely to duplicate this offensive performance, and if they do, they deserve to run away with this series.

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