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Detroit Pistons 90, Orlando Magic 89

Hedo Turkoglu comforts Jameer Nelson after the Orlando Magic lost to the Detroit Pistons, 90-89, to fall to a 3-1 NBA playoffs series deficit.

Hedo Turkoglu rubs Jameer Nelson's head during a break in the action in Saturday evening's Orlando Magic/Detroit Pistons game. Detroit won, 90-89, to take a commanding 3-1 series lead.

Photo by Doug Benc, Getty Images

This game was ours for the taking, but we didn't take it. We had an 11-point halftime lead and bumped it up to 15 with a Maurice Evans three-pointer. All we had to do was to get two more stops and two more baskets. That's it. We could have gone up by 19 points and the Pistons would surely have packed it in. Instead, they went on a backbreaking 15-0 run, capped off by a fast-break dunk by Richard Hamilton.

And in the end, we only needed one basket to win. Tayshaun Prince hit a floater in the lane (thanks to an Antonio McDyess offensive rebound) to put the Pistons ahead, 90-89. Hedo Turkoglu, who scored 13 of his 20 points in the period, missed a driving layup over Prince at the buzzer to end the game and, essentially, the series. But it should not have come to that. We wasted too many opportunities to blame the loss squarely on Hedo's missed layup. Take a look at this laundry list of miscues:

  • Dwight Howard's missed dunk (2:28, first quarter). This dunk wasn't heavily contested. Dwight reached back with one hand and simply threw it too hard into the back iron.
  • Keyon Dooling's bad pass (11:30, second quarter). The scorer credited Keyon with the turnover, but this one was Dwight's fault. After screening for Keyon on the right baseline, Howard rolled to the basket and was wide-open. Keyon delivered a crisp bounce pass, but Howard bobbled it, and Jason Maxiell recovered for Detroit.
  • Jameer Nelson's missed free throws (take your pick). Nelson, shooting 83.9% from the stripe this postseason, went just 2-of-6 from the line tonight. Sure, other guys missed free throws -- Rashard Lewis was 1-of-2 and Hedo was 4-of-5 -- but Nelson's misses simply stand out more. His miss with 44 seconds remaining kept the score 89-88, our favor. If he had made it, Tayshaun Prince's floater with 8.9 left in the game would have tied the score, not given the Pistons the lead.

Obviously, I'm disappointed we lost, but we still got some great efforts:

  • Hedo was huge in the fourth quarter, as I mentioned.
  • Maurice Evans played his tail off and scored 15 points.
  • Keith Bogans had 6 points and 7 boards (?!) off the bench, and he showed a new dimension in his game: the driving layup. Both of his field goals were of that variety, and they were both "and-one" plays. A shaky foul shooter, Bogans converted on both his tries.
  • In just 3 minutes, Marcin Gortat showed flashes of brilliance, scoring on a beautiful hook from the left baseline (over Rasheed Wallace, no less) and on a layup. The final total for Marcin: 4 points, 1 rebound, and 1 block in just 3 minutes.

I say "just" 3 minutes for Marcin because he should have been on the floor longer. Dwight Howard had arguably his worst offensive performance as a professional, with 8 points on 3-of-12 shooting. He didn't make any shots after the first quarter. The Pistons took him out of the game by muscling him as he shot, and he did not get the benefit of the whistle. Perhaps intimidated, by their defense, he also rushed a few shots, including one put-back (3:08, second quarter) that the threw entirely too hard off the glass; all he needed to do was grab the rebound, come down with it, gather himself, and go up for the jam. With more rest -- he played the entire second half! -- he might have been able to tip-in Hedo's missed layup at the final buzzer. He might have been able to box-out McDyess (who finished with 14 rebounds) more effectively. And something tells me that Gortat would have been able to hold his own in Dwight's absence. But we'll never know for sure.

After Game Three, Yahoo!'s Kelly Dwyer wrote that we let the Pistons creep back into the game because "Jameer Nelson really enjoys shooting 20-foot jumpers." It's true. Nelson tends to settle for the jump-shot too frequently, and especially at the ends of quarters. He ended the Magic's last three first-quarter possessions on jump-shots, making the first and missing the next two. He finished with 6 assists and just 1 turnover, which is fantastic, but the 6-of-14 shooting isn't. And we covered the free-throw shooting.

That's a wrap, both for this recap and for this series. Game Five is Tuesday night in Detroit, and I expect the Pistons to close it out in big fashion on their home floor. They've earned it. Of course, I won't complain if the Magic steal one there... but I wouldn't bank on it.