If you subscribed to this site's Twitter feed and read last night's updates, you know how agonizing that game was for me. The Orlando Magic jumped out to a 14-2 lead, which they squandered over the course of the next two quarters in which the Los Angeles Clippers--of all teams, the 4-16 (now 4-17) Clippers!--beat the Magic to every loose ball and forced them to execute in the half-court. Uh, that didn't quite work out.
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The Magic faced a 75-66 deficit at the start of the fourth period, which is when things changed for the better. The Magic used a 22-2 (!) burst to start the period and eventually held off the Clippers on their way to a 95-88 victory that nonetheless leaves me feeling not too great. Yes, it's only December, but a team like the Clippers should not give the Magic this much trouble. Were it not for Dwight Howard's excellent defensive play--he tallied 9 defensive rebounds and 3 blocks in the decisive fourth quarter--Orlando would have arguably its most embarrassing loss of the season.
I give the Magic credit for sticking with their game plan and continuing to shoot the three-ball. The Magic connected on 4 of their 7 three-point attempts in the final period. I also give Dwight Howard credit for not letting his offensive struggles distract from his defensive effort. Yes, Dwight got his 23 points, but he shot only 7-of-16 from the field, had 2 of his shots blocked at the rim by Marcus Camby (whoever said he can only tally weak-side blocks is a damn idiot), and seemed to be on the losing end of a few non-calls. As Magic fans well know, Dwight is notorious for mentally checking out of games when those things happen to him. His shoulders sag, he tries to run people over on offense, he throws elbows... but not tonight. Good on you, sir. And happy 23rd birthday, by the way.
It would have been very easy to lose one's cool tonight. Zach Randolph and Brian Cook were each called for flagrant fouls, while Baron Davis and Hedo Turkoglu each received technicals. The game was chippy, and historically those circumstances favor whichever team Orlando's playing. The Magic played through it, though, weathering a quick 6-point Clippers burst after Cook's flagrant, then burying them with three-pointers from Rashard Lewis and Turkoglu sandwiched around an Al Thornton free throw for the Clips. Turk's three-pointer with 2 minutes to play bumped Orlando's lead to 94-86 and effectively ended the game.
I don't have time to write for much longer, so I'll conclude by saying these things:
Too many times this season Hedo has driven to the basket looking for an official's whistle to bail him out if he loses control. He's justifiably not getting those calls this year, which means he needs to play more under control.
Courtney Lee's defense on Baron Davis. Was. Awesome. He, not the veteran defensive specialist Keith Bogans, drew the assignment of guarding the Clippers' franchise point guard for the entire fourth quarter. Davis shot 1-of-4 matched up against Lee, including one miss from the baseline which caromed out-of-bounds off the side of the backboard. We've seen Lee D-up against prolific scorers before, but this time, he brought the O to go with it. 8 points on 3-of-7 shooting in 26 minutes for Lee, who got all 3 of those buckets by driving to the basket in transition. I love it.
Brian Cook and Baron Davis will not exchange Christmas cards this year. Cook was called for a flagrant foul when he... uh, he didn't do anything, really, but Davis was in the area and fell down. Davis, who had picked up 1 technical earlier, popped back up and was very eager to have words with the Cookie Monster. Fortunately for the Clippers, Camby was there to restrain him. After the game, Cook approached Davis at midcourt and appeared to offer an apology; Davis' body language suggested he was, um, not eager to hear it. The conversation ended with an awkward, Cook-initiated soul shake.
Davis did his share of vintage Magic-torching. He blew by Jameer Nelson for an impressive tomahawk slam (which Dwight Howard was wise not to challenge, lest he wind up in a poster), blocked one of Lee's layup attempts from behind, made a driving layup to end the second quarter, and made an absurd fadeaway three-pointer at the third-quarter buzzer. I am glad he stayed in the Western Conference as a free agent. The thought of having to match-up with him more than twice a year is unsettling.
Given the way Lee played tonight, I'd expect the following letters to get grouped together often in the coming months: J.J.: DNP-CD
Too exhausted now. G'night.