Jameer Nelson's fadeaway jumper with 4.1 seconds to play lifted the Orlando Magic to a hard-fought, 91-90 win over the New Jersey Nets on Saturday night. With no timeouts remaining, the Magic trusted Nelson to make something happen to avoid dropping their third straight game. Nelson drove through the top of New Jersey's defense after taking a high screen from Dwight Howard; dribbled to the left side of the lane as Brook Lopez, Howard's defender, covered him; planted his right foot on the left part of the charge circle; faded; and lofted in the jumper over Lopez. Nelson made a great read on the play because, as coach Stan Van Gundy pointed out, Nets point guard Devin Harris would have had to box out Howard had Nelson missed, and Nelson shot early enough to allow for a putback. Harris' desperate running three-point attempt a few steps beyond midcourt--the Nets had no timeouts of their own, so they also had to go the length of the floor--caromed hard off the top of the glass at the horn.
Thus, the Magic survived outstanding games from the Nets' core players. Harris led all players with 26 points and 8 assists, carving up the Magic on the pick-and-roll with a yo-yo dribble and an array of shot-fakes. Lopez got himself going with long jumpers early, then looked to attack later in the game, scoring 23. Small forward Travis Outlaw continued his efficient destruction of the Magic's defense, pouring in 20 on 8-of-12 shooting. The difference was that no other Net scored more than 8.
In contrast, the Magic placed five players in double-figure scoring. Howard battled foul trouble all night, but still led the team with 16 points in just 26 minutes. Brandon Bass played arguably his best game in a Magic uniform, scoring 14 points off the bench. Nelson and Vince Carter struggled from the field all night, but they both made key plays in the fourth quarter.
|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.
In the fourth quarter, the Magic didn't do many things wrong on the offensive end, as they scored 31 points, moved the ball with purpose, and got the sorts of shots they wanted. And at the other end of the floor, they kept the Nets out of the painted area, forcing them into long jumpers. They went in, but it boded well for their defense the rest of the way.
However, things took a turn for the worse in the second period, when Orlando relaxed a bit. Speaking with sideline reporter Dante Marchitelli before the third quarter, Magic assistant Brendan Malone observed, "When we get a lead, we stop moving the ball, and we stop playing defense." Hard to argue with that assessment. Magic reserves accounted for all 21 of Orlando's second-quarter points as New Jersey crept back into the game. The effort, I think, is hard to question. Bass and Marcin Gortat chased loose balls and rebounds all over the place and fought hard. Maybe they wouldn't have to fight so hard if Orlando made its shots to begin with, but that's a different point. On one possession alone, Bass and Gortat rebounded three J.J. Redick misses, with Bass eventually converting two free throws to end it on a positive note. Redick, by the way, shot 1-of-7 from the floor and 0-of-4 from beyond the arc, dragging him down to 27.1 percent shooting on the season.
At the other end, Outlaw and Jordan Farmar got the Nets back into the game, scoring 11 points in a 15-4 New Jersey run against the Magic's second unit. At some point in the very near future, Orlando needs to tighten its defense, because it can't continue to let its opponents take open jumpers. The third period went much the same way, with the Magic struggling to score--with their starters this time--and New Jersey getting open jumpers, though the distinction here is they didn't fall at such a great rate.
Outlaw capped the third with back-too-back corner three-balls to give the Nets a one-point lead. On the final shot, the Nets' core pieces combined for the score: Lopez set a great screen for Harris up top, Harris crossed over to his left and drove the ball, then delivered it to a wide-open Outlaw for an automatic triple. On that play, Mickael Pietrus simply should not have collapsed on Harris' penetration. Howard was there to at least contest anything Harris put up, but I don't think Harris was even thinking "shoot" on the play. He put that pass right on target, without even looking.
Carter had a rough night, as I said earlier, but he made two great baskets down the stretch. I won't say "when it mattered most," because points count the same no matter when they're scored, but you see where I'm headed here, I hope. Isolated on the left wing, just beyond the three-point arc, against Anthony Morrow, Carter sized up his options and attacked the basket without hesitation. The Nets' zone defense didn't react, so Carter took it all the way to the rim and threw own a tomahawk to give the Magic a two-point edge.
Following Harris' two missed free throws, Carter right a high screen-and-roll with Howard on the left side. Lopez cut him off at the baseline, so Carter spun around him and floated the ball in for a four-point lead. Two great, aggressive drives, on consecutive trips down the court, for the thirteen-year veteran.
Not a great game overall for Orlando, which can't continue to defend this way and expect to win as many games as it'd like. "When I see five games in a row where we're just having a very, very difficult time stopping anybody," Van Gundy said following the win, "I really haven't been through that here." Later, he said he didn't have an immediate explanation for his team's disappointing defense. It could be "an individual thing," but he may "need to adjust some things that we're doing in our schemes." Fortunately, he has 73 games with which to work, but the time remaining in the season doesn't change the fact that the Magic ought to be far better defensively.
With all that said, it's a good win for Orlando. I agree with Van Gundy that his team "fought hard" tonight, which is "a step we needed to take." One didn't sense the Magic ever really quit, or got shell-shocked, tonight. The effort was there, if not the execution. It's something on which to build.