Orlando Magic 114, Philadelphia 76ers 89

The Orlando Magic finally put together a game in which they dominated from tip to horn, outscoring the Philadelphia 76ers in every period on their way to an emphatic, 114-89 victory. The 76ers' season is over, while the Magic survive to play the winner of Saturday night's Game 7 between the Boston Celtics and the Chicago Bulls. Rashard Lewis proved he has become a legitimate NBA power forward since joining the Magic last season, with a game-high 29 points on 11-of-22 shooting. The league leader in three-pointers made and attempted this season, Lewis uncorked only three tonight as the Magic's highest-paid player parked on the left block and made the Sixers pay with either deft post moves or savvy passes. Lew added 7 rebounds (5 offensive), 5 assists, and a game-high 3 blocked shots in a spectacular performance when his team needed him most. Andre Miller was the only Sixer who came to play, with 24 points on 7-of-13 shooting. He got vitually no help from his teammates, who sleepwalked through an elimination game, at home, in what was decidedly not a sellout.

Team Pace Efficiency eFG% FT Rate OReb% TO Rate
Magic 89 128.0 61.0% 17.1 33.3 15.7
76ers 100.0 45.4% 26.3 29.3 19.1

Lewis was hardly the only Magic player to break out. Every starter scored in double-figures, perhaps none more impressively than J.J. Redick. The third-year guard made just his 6th career start--and first since December 5th--but showed poise, not to mention skill. 15 points for Redick, all of them on three-pointers. He also contributed 4 rebounds and 3 assists. Rafer Alston had his best game in recent memory, with 21 points, 10 assists, and 3 steals. Sure, Miller toasted him on the other end of the floor, but Alston earned it all back--with interest--with his aggressive, heady play.

The easiest explanation for the Magic's dominance is low expectations. The odds were stacked against them: they were on the road, without two key players players, facing a team that refused to quit in the first 5 games of the series. All the pressure was on Philadelphia to even the series and head to Orlando for the decisive Game 7 this weekend. The Sixers, for possibly the first time all series, did not respond well to the pressure. They caved, in fact. Orlando's slow start to the second quarter allowed the Sixers to get out in transition, but when the Magic got their offense back on track, Philly did not stand a chance. There was simply no intensity on the defensive end, and one wonders why coach Tony DiLeo did not assign ace defender Andre Iguodala to check Lewis when it became apparent Thaddeus Young didn't stand a chance against him.

But maybe it wouldn't have mattered who guarded Lewis, because he was getting rid of the ball on double-teams and doing an otherwise brilliant job of fooling defenders with his series of post moves. Everyone should have expected the Magic to go to Lewis on the block, but my personal belief was that he'd favor his usual move in such situations, a turnaround jumper pivoting toward the baseline. Instead, Lew was aggressive in driving the ball into the teeth of Philly's interior defense.

Maybe "gums" would be a more appropriate term, though. Samuel Dalembert and Theo Ratliff blocked one shot apiece, but didn't alter many others beyond that (an embarrassing Alston layup attempt which barely drew iron notwithstanding). The Magic dominated the painted area without their All-NBA, All-Star, Olympic Gold Medalist, franchise center. That has to irritate Philly fans to no end.

But that's just it: Alston and Hedo Turkoglu could have missed as many layups as they pleased, given how well Orlando shot the three-ball. Five players made at least one trey--12 in all, in 26 attempts. That shooting performance bumps their series average up to a respectable, but well below their potential, 34.6%. Combining the last two games, they've shot 40.8%, which is roughly their ceiling. On the one hand, it's nice that the shooters finally found their long-range touch. On the other, they're going to have to keep their hands hot, as it might be 5 days or more until they play again.

We're now in the 7th paragraph of this recap, and I've yet to mention Marcin Gortat's brilliant 11-point, 15-rebound, 4-steal effort. That's the kind of night it was for the Magic. Heck, notoriously cranky coach Stan Van Gundy even cracked a smile on the sideline with less than a minute to play in the game. Tons of positives, not many negatives. The blemish was Turkoglu's being ejected after a kerfluffle with Dalembert in the fourth period. The players were whistled for a double-technical, which disqualified Turk, as he picked up a T earlier in the game for protesting a foul call. But give it up to Turk: he played well, with 12 points, 3 rebounds, 5 assists, and phenomenal swag in his 29 minutes on the floor.

Again, let's just hope the days off between games don't do a number on the Magic, who have not performed well when given a lot of rest. But kudos to them for closing the series out when few people (nice call, David Thorpe) believed they could. And kudos to Andre Miller, who played one helluva game tonight in defeat. If his teammates played with the same level of intensity, we'd indeed be gearing up for Game 7.

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