Thanks to a pull-up three-pointer from Hedo Turkoglu with 1.1 seconds remaining, the Orlando Magic defeated the Philadelphia 76ers, 84-81, to even their first-round playoff series at 2 games apiece. Turkoglu received plenty of criticism for his poor play in the first three games of the series, but acquitted himself tonight with 17 points on 8-of-11 shooting as well as the game-winning bucket. Dwight Howard led all players with 18 points, 18 rebounds, and 3 blocked shots. Andre Miller scored 17 points to pace Philadelphia, but shot just 6-of-18 from the field. Orlando seized control of the game with a brilliant third quarter on both sides of the ball, and victory appeared to be at hand at the 4:31 mark of the final period, when Courtney Lee nailed a bank shot from the left side to give Orlando a 79-69 lead. But it just wouldn't have been a game if the Sixers gave up, and they responded with a 12-2 run over the next 4:17, tying the score at 81 on a dunk by Samuel Dalembert and setting the table for Turkoglu's heroics. Click here for video of Hedo's game-winner.
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The Magic's final play might be one of the finest Stan Van Gundy has drawn up since joining Orlando at the beginning of last season. Courtney Lee inbounded to Turkoglu on the left sideline. Turk then dribbled to the center of the floor, where Rashard Lewis met him to set a screen. Turk went to his right around the screen and continued to dribble in place on the right wing, facing the basket, until the clock almost wound down to 0. He dribbled through his legs left-to-right a final time, elevated over Thaddeus Young, and drilled the trey. On the surface, there isn't much to the play. But I like it because it allowed Turkoglu to work himself into a rhythm before he shot the ball.
I agree, however, with Philip Rossman-Reich of The Curse of the Big Aristotle, though: the game never should have come down to one shot, and the feeling the Magic and their fans should have is one of relief, not of exuberance. Feel good that the team played its most complete game of the series, but worry that it nearly blew a big lead late yet again. Each time the 76ers have made a comeback against Orlando, it's come during a stretch in which Orlando has stopped looking to get the ball to Dwight Howard inside. Orlando can't afford to lose sight of its franchise center on offense.
The bigger issue for Orlando, which played brilliant half-court defense for most of the game, is now transition defense. Van Gundy prefers his players not crash the offensive glass, instead retreating down the floor in order to reduce the opposition's transition opportunities. It didn't much matter tonight, as Andre Miller raced up the floor with ease. Rafer Alston seems either unwilling or unable to apply pressure to Miller in these situations. With 2:36 to play, Miller rebounded a Rashard Lewis miss. Four seconds later, he was at the rim laying the ball in to bring Philly within 2. Alston was back in time, but stayed planted in the middle of the lane--not trying to draw a charge, but just standing there--as Miller stepped to Alston's left for the bucket. That's just one instance, and it's not only Miller: reserve combo guard Lou Williams also knifed through the Magic with impunity when Philly went off to the races.
On the positive side, Turkoglu's 8-of-11 shooting night, and fantastic finish, should raise his confidence to new heights. Rashard Lewis had his second consecutive strong game, with 17 points (6-of-15 shooting), 7 rebounds, 3 assists, and two blocked shots. Meanwhile, Courtney Lee bounced back from a pedestrian Game 3 to score 15 points on 6-of-11 shooting. His composure and aggressiveness returned to him, and he appeared to make quite the impression on TNT color analyst P.J. Carlesimo. The longtime NBA assistant coach and head coach said Lee might join Howard, Turkoglu, and Lewis to form a "Big Four." High praise.
The Magic will look to size control of the series in Game 5 on Tuesd ay night. In a first for this site, yours truly will cover that game live from press row.