The Orlando Magic squandered a 15-point lead against a dismal Detroit Pistons squad today, but staged a fourth-quarter rally and came away with a hard-fought, costly win by a 91-86 final. The bench, almost by necessity, did most of the heavy lifting, scoring 47 of Orlando's points. J.J. Redick led the team with 17 points, including three crucial free throws to extend Orlando's lead to 4 points with 1:16 to play. Previously mired in a 6-for-26 slump, Mickael Pietrus shot 4-of-6 from the field to score 14 points, but twisted an ankle after making a key three-pointer late in the game and now estimates he'll miss the next week's worth of games. He was but the second Magic player to leave the game, as Jameer Nelson hyperextended his left knee in the first quarter and did not return. The Pistons fought their way back with uncharacteristically strong defense and opportunistic scoring off broken plays or offensive rebounds, though Orlando shut their offense down late in the game when it mattered most. The victory assures that coach Stan Van Gundy and his staff will helm the Eastern Conference All-Stars two weeks from today.
|Team||Pace||Efficiency||eFG%||FT Rate||OReb%||TO Rate|
|Green denotes a stat better than the team's season average;|
red denotes a stat worse than the team's season average.
Given the talent disparity between the two teams, Orlando should have won this game running away. But the Pistons always give the Magic trouble, and especially in Auburn Hills, so the result shouldn't surprise anyone too much. Dwight Howard looked well on his way to another excellent offensive game against an above-average defender--today, Ben Wallace--early with a whirling dunk, rolling hook, and bank shot. He also dished to a wide-open Rashard Lewis for a three-pointer while on the move, displaying some excellent decision-making. Wallace and the Pistons turned up the defensive pressure and made a point of hacking, grabbing, and generally assaulting Howard whenever he touched the ball the rest of the way. As a result, he missed 4 of his last 5 field goal attempts and shot 18 free throws.
He got away with his own fair share of extra contact too, which I suppose means everything evened out. He committed a foul on 2 of his 5 blocked shots, but neither went called: bopping Jonas Jerebko in the face on the follow-through and kneeing Tayshaun Prince in the groin while swatting his shot away. Were the game called a bit tighter, Howard wouldn't have managed to play 41 minutes, and Orlando probably would have lost. As it is, the game was a 50/50 contest for almost all of the second half.
Detroit could hardly get anything going out of a set offense, which would ordinarily spell doom in a slow-paced game like tonight's. But Jerebko, Wallace, and Jason Maxiell held their own on the glass, combining for 8 offensive rebounds, and it seemed like Detroit caught a lucky bounce on a lot of the ensuing plays. In short, the Pistons tended to out-work the Magic. Given Orlando's history with the Pistons--now 2-13 at The Palace since 2004--it's easy to see why Van Gundy said, "part of me thinks if they put five 10-year-olds in Pistons jerseys out there, we’d struggle," after the win. It's hard to argue with that when Prince short-rims a three-pointer from the right corner, only to watch the ball bounce straight up and in to cut Detroit's deficit to a point with less than a minute to play.
But Orlando's defense held solid on the Pistons' last possession, twice denying Ben Gordon--who has one of the quickest triggers in the NBA, and needs hardly any daylight to shoot--a good look at the basket for what would have been a tying three-pointer. Detroit's offense scrambled, with Gordon throwing a looping pass to the top of the arc to re-set the play. Anthony Johnson, in emergency duty due to Nelson's injury, intercepted the pass and sank the ensuing two free throws to ice the win.
Johnson played well, with two pullup 15-footers in traffic rounding out his scoring at 6. He also grabbed 3 rebounds and handed out 3 assists. However, Redick was the true star of the game. For the second consecutive night, he out-played Vince Carter and earned more minutes as a result.
Carter missed 7 of his 8 shot attempts today, with the one make coming on an alley-oop dunk courtesy of Matt Barnes. I've given up trying to diagnose what's wrong with his shot. Good looks, clean ones, the sort of ones he's built his Hall-of-Fame-caliber career on... but they just miss. Of the 21 players to see the floor tonight, only Pistons rookie Austin Daye scored fewer points than Carter; he shot 0-for-2 in 4 minutes.
Orlando has tomorrow off before hosting the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday. Nelson could play, but I have a sneaking suspicion that Jason Williams and Johnson will wind up running the point in that contest.