Torrid three-point shooting led the Orlando Magic back from a 24-point deficit against the Miami Heat on Thursday night, with the Magic prevailing by a 99-96 final when Chris Bosh and LeBron James missed three-point tries on the final Heat possession. Jason Richardson led Orlando with 24 points on 9-of-14 shooting, and 6-of-8 from deep, but he was hardly the only Magic player who had his three-point stroke going. Indeed, Gilbert Arenas and Ryan Anderson hit three triples each off the Magic's bench, with Arenas drilling two less than 80 seconds apart in the telltale fourth quarter.
Miami's strategy heading into the game was to "swarm" Dwight Howard inside with multiple, aggressive help defenders coming from various angles. It sure kept Howard down, as Orlando's franchise center used 13 shooting possessions in 40 minutes, but it also opened up his teammates beyond the arc. The drastic extent to which the Magic shot better on threes (55.2 percent) than twos (42.9 percent) attests to Miami's need to rethink its defensive approach, which the Magic leveraged against it. The Heat were hoist by their own petard.
|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.
Orlando started the game well enough, with Jameer Nelson orchestrating a high pick-and-roll attack that led to easy scores for Richardson (an in-rhythm jumper), Brandon Bass (a reverse dunk), two pullup jumpers for Nelson, and an alley-oop to a back-cutting Richardson. The Heat couldn't really keep Nelson from getting to where he wanted to.
Unfortunately for the Magic, the same could be said for their coverage of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. The megastars combined for 47 first-half points--more than Orlando managed as a team--in a variety of ways. They both had their usually iffy jumper going, which tends to mean "good night, and thanks for playing" for opposing defenses. It nearly did tonight as well, but the Heat's offense died a grotesque death in the second half when the Magic cut down on their transition chances and forced Miami to try beating them off the dribble. We ought to file the film of Orlando's fourth-quarter defense somewhere for reference whenever anyone asks for proof this team can win a championship. To bottle up two of the world's three best players like that takes a lot of skill, effort, energy, will... all the good, intangible sorts of things the Magic seemed to have in spades tonight.
The 24-point comeback is really something else, isn't it? To pull that off, on the road, against a team of Miami's caliber? Appreciate it, sure, but don't lose sight of the fact that the Magic could have had a less exciting, but probably more meaningful, win had they not trailed by such a big margin in the first place. That entails taking better care of the ball, rotating on defense, and (obviously) making shots.
Every game is but one of 82 in theory, but in practice--in the narrative terms in which we define our world--games like tonight's mean more. So it's worth noting that in the fourth quarter, with his team needing anything he could provide in order to prevent a near-historic collapse, James took just two shots in 9 minutes, missing them both and going scoreless. Howard scored just 4 points (on 4-of-4 free-throw shooting, without any shot attempts from the field), but blocked three shots and pulled in 10 rebounds. Again, that's three blocks and 10 rebounds in one period of play for Howard.
Also worth noting: that Orlando took Chris Bosh once again completely out of his game. Bosh, who used to torment the Magic as a Toronto Raptor, has yet to assert himself against Orlando since joining the Heat. He played 40 minutes, but scarcely made an impact, missing 10 of his 15 shots and pulling in 5 boards. Magic backup Ryan Anderson outscored him, 15-13, on 5 fewer shot attempts, and pulled in as many rebounds, in 17 fewer minutes. The Heat need to find ways to get Bosh involved offensively, instead of letting Wade and James overdribble. I don't think Bass or Anderson can guard him one-on-one in the post, for instance. That's something the Heat might look into exploiting.
For the second straight game, Orlando turned Quentin Richardson loose on an opponent's high-scoring wing player. He brought his usual above-average defense against James, primarily in the second half, to great effect. Richardson's final line won't impress--3 points and 2 rebounds in 16 minutes?--but James' quiet second half didn't, either. And that's mostly on Richardson.