Oddly Enough, the Orlando Magic are Defeating the Cleveland Cavaliers on the Strength of Their Third Quarter Play

A running joke among commenters at this site after any game in which the Orlando Magic make a decisive run in the third period is to suggest I change its name. I get that. It comes with the territory, just as how the folks at WaitingForNextYear might consider a URL change if a Cleveland sports team finally wins a title. But after four games in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers, four games in which the Magic have poured it on against their opponent, it's becoming painfully obvious that I need to address the Magic's performance in the penultimate periods of this series, as well as this site's name.

First, and more importantly, let's talk basketball. The Magic have outscored the Cavaliers by a scant 12 points in this entire series, which might understate the extent to which they've handled Cleveland. Orlando has led at the 47:59 mark of regulation in each game, as John Hollinger pointed out during Game 4. But more telling about this series is Orlando's +28 mark in third quarters, having outscored Cleveland by at least 4 points each time. Here's a look at the four factors, considering only the third quarters of games in this series:

Team Pace Efficiency eFG% FT Rate OReb% TO Rate
Cavaliers 85 96.4 41.7% 20.5 19.5 14.3
Magic 128.5 62.3% 24.7 19.4 15.3

Orlando is, quite simply, killing Cleveland immediately after halftime in this series. One can posit any number of reasons, including: freshness on Orlando's part; complacency on Cleveland's part, as it has led at halftime in 3 of the 4 games this series; great adjustments by Orlando's Stan Van Gundy; poor adjustments by Cleveland's Mike Brown, etc. Regardless of how or why, Orlando's third-quarter strength is a key factor that might propel it to its first NBA Finals appearance since 1995.

The whole thing makes me look like a fool for naming the site after the Magic's tendency to wilt after halftime. In my defense, I started this site when Brian Hill was head coach, and specifically after this embarrassing loss to the Sacramento Kings in which the Magic managed just 12 third-period points, turing a 10-point halftime lead into a 3-point deficit after three period. That team featured less-polished versions of Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson; an ill-used version of Hedo Turkoglu; and perhaps the world's most predictable offense. The Detroit Pistons swept it in the first round of the playoffs. I mean, this is not the 2000 L.A. Lakers we're talking about. This is a team that had to go on a 10-5 tear to end the season just for the honor of getting broomed in the first round.

But more recently than that team, the Magic have struggled--relatively speaking--in third quarters. According to 82games.com, the Magic placed 9th in the NBA in third-quarter scoring differential this season, at +0.7. They were also 9th in third-quarter win percentage, outscoring opponents in 54% of third quarters this season. The Magic's third-quarter performance in both categories is, by a wide margin, their worst of any other quarter. In other words, if the current Magic team is going to disappoint its fans, it'll probably be in the third quarter.

The whole thing has been turned on its head this series, at least as far as the Magic are concerned. The Cavs are no stranger to third-quarter disappointments, winning only 50% of their third quarters and holding a mere +0.6 differential, also their worst in any quarter. What it's come down to, in that sense, is a war of attrition between two teams that tend to underachieve in that period. And so far, it's the Magic that have come out on top, in those quarters and, as a result, in the Conference Finals as a whole.

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