After a slow start that saw them trail by as many as 11 points, the Orlando Magic battled back on the road against the Toronto Raptors to win 104-96, for their fifth consecutive victory. Vince Carter's jumper just before the third-period buzzer knotted the game at 76, and the Magic's second unit started the final period on a 17-6 run to take control of the game. Carter, the reviled former Raptor, led all scorers with 24 points on 9-of-24 shooting while also contributing 8 rebounds and 2 assists. J.J. Redick scored 19 points off Orlando's bench, with four three-pointers, and came up big in the fourth period. Chris Bosh paced Toronto with 22 points, as usual, but the Magic held him in check; he had averaged 30 points per game against them in their last 10 meetings.
|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.
The spotlight always shines a bit brighter on Carter when he visits the Raptors, and looking at the boxscore it might be tempting to say he wilted today, with another inefficient game. I don't think that's fair, given how he played. He got to wherever he wanted on the floor with relative ease, and in the early going, he made the basket his destination. Unfortunately, he struggled to finish after absorbing contact, even missing two dunks. In the second half, perhaps irritated by the contact the officials were letting go, he turned his game more toward the perimeter. It worked. He shot 7-of-13 in the second half overall, scoring 18 points, with just 1 attempt at the basket; he also drew four free throws. For whatever reason, he was simply more comfortable from mid-range. The Magic should at least be happy that he tore through the Raptors' defense with relative ease, even if his finishing left a lot to be desired.
As well as he played--we can't discount those 8 rebounds--he was arguably the Magic's second-best shooting guard today. Redick was the star off the bench, lighting the Raptors up just as he did three weeks ago, when he scored 27 starting in Carter's place. With the game tied after three periods, Redick led the Magic's surge at the beginning of the fourth to take control. He shot 3-of-4 for 7 points, and assisted on 3 other field goals, thus accounting for 15 of the Magic's 28 points in the period. The Raptors' poor defense did him a favor by continuing to go under screens set for him, allowing J.J. to shoot uncontested much of the time. Interesting that coach Stan Van Gundy made Redick, and not starting point guard Jason Williams, the playmaker down the stretch. It's a move that paid off, though.
Dwight Howard continued to struggle offensively, in part due to Bosh's surprisingly good defense and in part due to his receiving a beating down low. Lots of off-line flings at the rim after getting hit for Howard, but it really didn't matter too much. He was still active on the offensive boards, as 5 of his game-high 12 rebounds came on that end. He's improved as a passer, finding Redick in the opposite corner for a three-pointer after one of those rebounds.
Really, the story of the day was the Magic's secondary players filling in well for the stars. Rashard Lewis was set to have a big game, but could not stay out of foul trouble. In his place, Ryan Anderson scored 8 points on 2-of-6 shooting, all from beyond the arc. Lewis missed all of his three-point attempts, but made up for it by driving to the basket or pulling up from mid-range if his defender bought his head-fakes.
Williams, too, made an impact. He played Jose Calderon, who is at his very best a borderline All-Star, to a draw: Williams scored 16, grabbed 5 rebounds, and tallied 3 assists with no turnovers; Calderon also scored 16, with 2 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 turnovers. Williams' 34-year-old legs didn't betray him, sinking two three-pointers in the fourth quarter despite playing 39 minutes, his highest total since logging 42 minutes against Charlotte in March 2008. His to more-or-less matching Calderon in a game in which the Magic's top players struggled to score efficiently proved to be huge.
The biggest cause for concern here isn't the offense. Carter, Howard, and Lewis will all come around. But nobody the Magic had seemed to be able to contain reserve
pogo-stick power forward Amir Johnson, who contributed 14 points and 8 rebounds in 29 minutes. Defensively, he altered shots inside, and drew a charge on Howard. Offensively, the Magic didn't have an answer. He can't create his own offense, but relies on missed shots and his teammates' passing savvy to get him buckets. Orlando continued to lose track of him, on both backboards and in transition, and he nearly won the Raptors the game today. In the waning minutes of the third quarter, Johnson scored 9 points and grabbed 5 rebounds, just by running the floor and being active; he even out-leaped Howard for a few of those boards. The East has plenty of these sorts of players--J.J. Hickson of Cleveland comes to mind, as does Josh Smith of Atlanta--and the Magic cannot go through the whole season letting them get whatever they want. Lewis is the Magic's best defender at power forward, but he's not athletic enough to keep up with them; look no further than his futile attempt to avoid fouling Johnson after a head-fake late in the fourth quarter today for evidence. If Brandon Bass, who earned his second consecutive did not play-coach's decision today, can prove he has both the athleticism and the awareness to stick with the more athletic power forwards of the East, he could carve his way back into the rotation.
Overall, it's great for Orlando to win its 5th straight, especially on the road in a particularly hostile environment. It played hard and executed on both ends of the floor. Had the Magic managed to keep a body on Johnson throughout the game, and had Howard been able to avoid early foul trouble, they would have won this one much more easily. They get two days off before a difficult stretch this Thanksgiving weekend, in which they'll play 4 games in 5 nights in 4 different cities.