Vince Carter broke out of his offensive funk and scored 14 of his 21 points in the decisive second half to lead the Orlando Magic to a 99-90 defeat of the Charlotte Bobcats, ending their season and helping the Magic advance to the Eastern Conference Semifinals for the third straight season. Jameer Nelson missed 8 of his 12 shots, but still contributed 18 points thanks to 8-of-10 free throw shooting, and Rashard Lewis drained 4 more three-pointers for 17 points, as both players continued their strong play. Reserve small forward Mickael Pietrus drilled crucial three-pointers on consecutive fourth-quarter possessions to give Orlando a 7-point lead with 5:47 to play, and Nelson hit a deep three-pointer near the end of the shot clock on the very next possession to put the Magic squarely in the driver's seat, with a 10-point lead and 4:53 remaining. For the fourth straight game, Orlando held off the Bobcats without Dwight Howard contributing on offense; he missed 4 of his 6 shots from the floor for 6 points. He fouled out, giving him 22 fouls out of a maximum 24 in the series. He did manage to grab 13 boards and swat 2 shots, though. The Bobcats led by as many as 7 in the first half on the strength of their jump-shooting, and made 4 of their first 6 three-pointers. But once the jumpers dried up, the Bobcats had no way to score consistently, even with Howard on the bench. They went 8:19 without a field goal in the fourth quarter, with their season on the line, during which the Magic turned a 2-point deficit into a 9-point lead. Orlando awaits the winner of the Atlanta Hawks/Milwaukee Bucks series, which is knotted at two games apiece after Milwaukee's victory tonight. Second-round play won't begin until Sunday at the earliest, and the Magic will not practice again until Thursday. It's the first seven-game series sweep in Magic franchise history.
|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.
Early on, it looked like the Magic's offense had it going to a degree that the Bobcats simply couldn't match. They made 3 three-pointers and jumped out to an 18-8 lead, looking to put Charlotte away early. But then their shots bounced out, the Bobcats' bounced in, and they surrendered a 15-2 run to close out the period, culminating with Raymond Felton's deep three-pointer at the horn to give the Bobcats a 25-23 lead, not to mention momentum.
But again, two-point jump shooting isn't sustainable, and the Bobcats found out the hard way again tonight. They took care of the ball, and moved it around fairly well for the first time in this series, scrambling the Magic's defense fairly regularly in the second half. The difference was that the shots stopped falling. I do credit Bobcats coach Larry Brown, though, for finally giving Tyrus Thomas some minutes at center. The trio of Theo Ratliff, Tyson Chandler, and a hobbled Nazr Mohammed just wasn't getting it done in the first three games, and Thomas can provide some offensive spark when he's engaged. He wound up scoring 21 points--his jumper is the only Charlotte one that stayed reliable, relaly--and moved into position away from the ball all night, making the Magic's centers pay for losing track of him. Had the Bobcats managed to get anything from go-to guy Stephen Jackson, this series would likely have come back to Orlando for a Game 5 this Wednesday. But he shot 2-of-11 from the field and committed 4 turnovers. He also received an inopportune technical foul for jawing with officials during the timeout following Pietrus' second clutch trey, presumably for arguing about a recent Howard rejection of a D.J. Augustin offering that may have been on its way down. Not at all what the Bobcats needed from their emotional leader at all, though Carter missed the ensuing free throw.
Coach Stan Van Gundy relied on Carter despite his cold shooting throughout the series; he'd shot just 13-of-40 from the floor and 0-of-12 from beyond the arc prior to tonight. In the second half, with the chance to finish the Bobcats' season and earn some rest, he called on Carter to initiate the offense. He answered that challenge by attacking the basket more aggressively and purposefully than he had at any other time in the series. And he got a few jumpers to drop as well. Carter's never one to doubt his shot, but I do think Van Gundy's move here made sense in the short-term (to win the game) and the long-term (to get Carter going for the next series).
There are things to build on, for sure, but right now the Magic have to be happy that they swept a worthy opponent despite meager offensive contributions from Howard and infrequent ones from Carter.