When the first half ended two nights ago, the Milwaukee Bucks were leading the Orlando Magic by the score of 49-41. However, the Bucks' lead at halftime wasn't a result of thoroughly outplaying the Magic for 24 minutes - both teams brought good effort and energy. It was simply a matter of one team making shots and the other not. For Orlando, it seemed like the players were trying to shake off the rust of being off for four days. Likewise, the Magic have been known to struggle with three days or more rest but given that this is a new year with a new roster, there's no telling whether or not that trend will carry over from last year (it's too early to make a judgment either way).
So far, it hasn't, as Orlando poignantly proved in the second half against Milwaukee. It wasn't like the Magic did anything different; the team executed its offensive sets crisply and couldn't miss nearly any shot it attempted. And with each made basket, the Bucks slowly withered away.
Given that Dwight Howard was unguardable in the first half but couldn't inflict as much damage offensively as he could have due to foul trouble, it was no surprise he got the ball on back-to-back possessions to start the third quarter. In both instances, Orlando ran 4-out/1-in offensive sets for Howard and he was able to score with ease against Bogut - on a running hook in the lane and on a spin move which led to a layup. After the Magic made a concerted effort to play inside-out on offense in the first few minutes of the period, that opened things up around the perimeter. As a result, Vince Carter was able to take advantage and did he ever.
- [9:52] Nelson lay-up (Carter assist)
- [9:07] Carter driving lay-up (Barnes assist)
- [8:41] Carter driving lay-up
- [8:02] Carter, three-point 26' foot jump shot (Lewis assist)
- [6:56] Carter, 22' foot jump shot
- [6:22] Carter, 22' foot jump shot
- [2:54] Williams, three-point jump shot (Carter assist)
- [2:16] Carter, 13' foot jump shot
- [1:08] Carter, 17' foot jump shot
- [0:35] Barnes, 8' foot jump shot (Carter assist)
Carter had his fingerprints all over Orlando's comeback in the quarter on the offensive side of the ball. A few things worth noting. On two consecutive possessions, Carter ran the same play with Rashard Lewis that resulted in open looks that he converted. Both times, Lewis set a screen on Carter's defender (Luc Richard Mbah a Moute), which created just enough space for him to make the shot. If it works, try it again. Right? Carter was able to get things going in the 2/5 pick & roll with Howard and Marcin Gortat for good measure, too. What was most impressive, in my opinion, was the fact Carter was able to shred Milwaukee's defense with an elite defender, Mbah a Moute, guarding him the majority of the time.
The other player for the Magic who provided a spark in the second half was Jason Williams. To put it simply, he was magnificent. Jameer Nelson was struggling the entire night and Williams was able to step in and contribute nicely. Williams checked into the game at the 4:16 mark in the third quarter and immediately made his presence felt by making a three-pointer off the dribble, courtesy of a Lewis screen on Brandon Jennings that set him free for the attempt. It wasn't until the fourth quarter, though, when Williams went nova.
To start, Williams was able to make his second three-point shot of the evening after Brandon Bass, who tried to drive to the basket unsuccessfully against Hakim Warrick, passed him the basketball at the top of the key. A few plays later, Williams was able to channel his White Chocolate alter-ego against Luke Ridnour, who was trying to defend him. Williams crossed over Ridnour multiple times and proceeded to make an off-balance three, which got the Orlando bench to stand up and cheer in approval. On the very next possession, Carter was able to secure a rebound off a missed shot from Andrew Bogut and kick it out to Williams on an outlet pass. Williams, in a split-second, was able to find Gortat, who was running down the middle of the court on the fast break like a fundamentally-sound center would do. Gortat, then, caught the ball and was able to convert an and-one layup that sent the Amway Arena crowd into a frenzy.
By the end of the night, Williams made two more three-pointers, the Magic made a lot more shots, and the game ended in a blowout.
Before wrapping things up, it should be pointed out that Bass and Mickael Pietrus also played well in reserve roles.
In an attempt to add more energy to the starting lineup, Matt Barnes became Orlando's starting small forward and Pietrus moved to the bench. Needless to say, head coach Stan Van Gundy's decision worked (for one game, at least) because Pietrus played with energy, smarts, and a sense of urgency. One play in particular, with the fourth quarter winding down, that highlighted Pietrus' sound decision-making was when he and Williams executed a picture-perfect fast break. Pietrus, notorious for not giving the ball up in transition, played hot potato with Williams a few times and was rewarded with a layup. A mundane observation, but with Pietrus, an important one.
As for Bass, he was able to contribute with a few buckets on offense and on defense, he did a great job of containing Warrick - a player who gave the Magic fits in its matchup with the Bucks in late November.
Perhaps the most impressive thing to take away from the Orlando Magic's victory is this: the team exploded for 76 points in the second half, setting a franchise record with 78.4% shooting from the field, against the NBA's seventh-best defense in terms of efficiency. Let the last part of that sentence sink in.
Because what J.J. Redick told me at practice a while back - "a good offense in the NBA is going to beat a good defense" - was a perfect example of what happened to the Milwaukee Bucks.