The Orlando Magic's balanced offensive attack and tight defense keyed them to a 92-77 win over the Charlotte Bobcats in Game 2 of their first-round playoff series, giving them a 2-0 series lead. Vince Carter played a calm, balanced game for Orlando, and it paid off: he finished with a team-high 19 points to go with 5 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals. He also earned 11 free-throw attempts as he put more pressure on Charlotte's defense than he did on Sunday. Dwight Howard posted 15 points, 9 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, and 2 blocks when he wasn't steaming on the bench in foul trouble, as he picked up 5 fouls for the second straight game, including one that was so iffy that Magic coach Stan Van Gundy earned a technical foul for protesting it. The teams nearly duplicated their effective field goal shooting from Game 1, but the Magic's win tonight was more decisive because Charlotte committed 21 turnovers in a tremendously slow-paced game--they had 77 possessions in all--meaning that more than one-fourth of their trips down the floor ended with a turnover. Still, the Bobcats trailed by 20 entering the fourth quarter but trimmed Orlando's lead to just 8 with 3:16 to play, which shows how dangerous they can be for some stretches. The issue is that they haven't been able to put together any consistent strong play on both sides of the floor, and as a result, they head home in an 0-2 hole.
|Team||Pace||Efficiency||eFG%||FT Rate||OReb%||TO Rate|
|Green denotes a stat better than the team's regular-season average;|
red denotes a stat worse than the team's regular-season average.
The Bobcats had, I thought, learned their lesson in Game 1: if they attack the basket and draw fouls, they can hang with Orlando. That simply did not happen tonight, as they helped the Magic's cause by looking for long jumpers. That's what it looked like they were doing when they weren't throwing the ball away or dribbling off their knee, anyway. Just a sloppy, sloppy showing on their part, in the first three quarters, and cost them their chance to really challenge the Magic, whose offense wasn't that much better due to their own turnover problems, particularly in the fourth period.
Orlando really got its pick-and-roll game going tonight, but also seemed more intent to feed Howard on the low block than they did in Game 1. It resulted in some silly turnovers, sure, but also buckets. Emphatic ones. Like the one in the third quarter where he posted up on the left block, beat Theo Ratliff with a hard dribble to the middle, drop-stepped to the baseline, and powered home a one-handed dunk for a 50-38 Magic lead. And yes, that's a second-half score. Anyway, the Bobcats' previous possession ended with a shot-clock violation, and Orlando's previous possession also resulted in a Howard dunk, so the crowd was already stirring a bit. After that second dunk on Ratliff? Eruption. Bobcats guard Stephen Jackson, who led all scorers with 27 points and showed no ill-effects from suffering a bone bruise in Game 1, seems to believe the fans at Amway Arena played a role in Orlando's win.
I do think that, going forward, Orlando will need to get more production off its bench. Mickael Pietrus lit it up from the outside once again, draining 3 of his 4 three-pointers, but the rest of the second unit contributed just 12 points on 9 shots. Marcin Gortat, once again forced to take on a larger role due to Howard's foul trouble, played 19 minutes and finished with just 2 points on 1-of-2 shooting (the miss was a wide-open dunk), 2 rebounds, and 1 blocked shot. You expect those numbers from Gortat in, say, 7 or 10 minutes of work, not 19. And he was, once again, not much of a factor on defense. Though he seemed to be more energetic than he was in Game 1, it's clear that he's just not getting into his highest gear, to use an automotive analogy. His failure to box out Boris Diaw on a missed Tyson Chandler free throw led to a three-pointer from D.J. Augustin and a 5-point possession for the Bobcats. Those 5 points, incidentally, represent 6% of their total output. Scoring's at a premium for this team, as it has been for most of the season.
Tonight's game ball has to go to Carter for his excellent execution in pick-and-roll sets. He forced the issue on Sunday, which resulted in 15 misses in 19 attempts? Tonight? More focused, more aggressive, and not coincidentally more effective. His running jumper--admittedly not a great shot--at the 2:56 mark of the fourth period answered the Gerald Wallace layup which cut Orlando's lead to just 8 points. The play that most impressed me, though, was the high screen-and-roll he ran with Gortat at the top of the arc late in the third quarter. He drove to his right around Gortat's screen, saw Rashard Lewis open all the way over in the left corner, and fired a one-handed pass across his body, on the move, off the dribble, right to Lewis' shooting pocket. Lewis drained the triple to give Orlando a 17-point lead. Not many players in the league have the court vision to see the open man, the physical strength to deliver him the ball, and the skill to do so quickly and accurately. More important than that one play, though, is that he demonstrated that he can run the one-two pick-and-roll with Nelson effectively because of his ability to back down Bobcats point guard Raymond Felton when Charlotte switches the screen there. That, and he can break down one of the league's best defenses off the bounce. I suspect the Bobcats will try to send another defender at him in Game 3 in order to disrupt his rhythm. It'd be a wise move, because tonight, he looked very comfortable out there.
Something we shouldn't overlook, from a team-wide standpoint, is that the Magic fought the Bobcats to a draw on the glass; each team finished with 36 total rebounds, and 11 offensive. Thanks to Gerald Wallace's incredible 17-rebound effort in Game 1, Charlotte owned the backboards, 41-34. This season, the Magic were just 11-15 when they were outrebounded. So, solid work tonight.
Two games into the series and Orlando has a +24 differential and a 2-0 lead, about which it must be pleased. But Charlotte's been closer in those games than their final scores might indicate, and hasn't given the Magic its very best effort just yet. That should come this Saturday at Time Warner Cable Arena, which will host its a playoff game for the first time.