The Orlando Magic played one of their best offensive games of the season Friday night, but it wasn't enough against the Utah Jazz, as they fell by a decisive 117-105 margin. Deron Williams led all scorers with 32 points, Paul Millsap scored 20 of his 22 in the first half, and C.J. Miles poured in a season-high 26 points in 21 minutes off Utah's bench in the victory. The Jazz simply had more firepower throughout the game, shooting 9-of-13 from three-point range in the second half to hold off Orlando's late rally. The loss, the Magic's fourth straight, drops Orlando to 15-8 on the season.
Six Magic players scored in double figures, with Jameer Nelson's 19 points leading the way. But with Al Jefferson playing the best defensive game of his life against Dwight Howard, who missed 10 of his 15 shots from the floor and finished with 15 points, the Magic too often had to rely on their perimeter players to score. In the telltale third quarter, which Utah won by a 24-15 margin, the Magic missed all 6 of their three-point tries.
Coach Stan Van Gundy's decision to shuffle his starting lineup by moving Brandon Bass into it paid dividends offensively, as Bass scored 18 points on 8-of-11 shooting. But Bass proved unable to slow Millsap, who bullied Bass by lowering his shoulder to create space for his step-back jumper time and again. Williams managed to find Millsap under the hoop multiple times for easy scores, and while they aren't all Bass' fault, it's clear that Van Gundy still doesn't have an answer for the burly Louisiana Tech product.
|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.
This game is among the toughest I've had to evaluate over the last three-plus seasons covering Orlando. Save for that horrid third period, the Magic played excellent offensively, generating the sorts of shots they wanted and making them at a decent clip despite Howard's ineffectiveness. Williams couldn't stay in front of Nelson on his drives to the hoop, which explains Nelson's game-high 10 assists figure, as he drew-and-kicked most effectively. But at the other end, Orlando played abysmally. I think. I'm not sure. When Miles and Andrei Kirilenko combine for 43 points on 21 shot attempts, and 6-of-8 shooting from beyond the arc, it's tough to evaluate a defense. I imagine Van Gundy can live with his team conceding three-point looks to the Kirilenkos and Mileses of this league if it means forcing the ball away from the Williamses and Millsaps, but when the shots drop... I don't know what to say.
Here's a sequence that illustrates what I'm talking about. At the 2:45 mark of the fourth, the Magic had drawn to within 7 points following a Nelson three-ball. On the ensuing Jazz possession, Williams handled the ball high on the left side against Nelson. The Magic sent Rashard Lewis to double team, freeing Millsap at the top of the arc. Mindful of Millsap's shooting stroke, J.J. Redick shaded toward Millsap, leaving Kirilenko open in the right corner. Williams fired the ball to Millsap, who then swung the ball to Kirilenko. Redick closed, but Kirilenko's long two-point offering rainbowed its way into the net. Kirilenko isn't much of a jump-shooter, but on nights like tonight, he had it going.
On the next Magic possession, they missed two shots but maintained control thanks to a Nelson offensive rebound, but Millsap timed Nelson's crosscourt pass perfectly and darted into the lane for the steal. He found Kirilenko streaking on the break for a dunk, putting the Jazz up by 11 with 1:55 to play, sealing victory for the host team.
On a lot of other nights, the Magic's fourth-quarter rally might have resulted in a victory, and we'd all be here praising their resolve and cool under fire. Instead, the Jazz darn near shot the lights out, sent the Magic to their fourth straight defeat, and likely have Orlando fans wondering even more about the championship prospects of their team.
So Miles and Kirilenko had some uncharacteristically big games. That doesn't change the fact that Orlando failed to contain Williams and Millsap, two more known, and bankable, offensive commodities. Williams hit his share of tough shots--the long three-pointer he banged in with the shot clock approaching zero and Nelson practically in his shorts early in the third stands out--but overall you have to think there's something more the Magic could have done. The same applies to Millsap, who roasted Bass and Malik Allen time and again, Van Gundy was clearly determined to go big, so to speak, in order to combat Utah's strong big-man rotation of Millsap and Jefferson, given that he started Bass, subbed Allen for him in the first quarter, and tried playing backup center Marcin Gortat at power forward too. Right idea, but none of them could slow the Jazz's onslaught.