The Orlando Magic were able to defeat the Detroit Pistons by a score of 110-103 last night but if one saw the expression on Stan Van Gundy's face while the teams were playing, one would have imagined the Magic lost. Van Gundy was so livid with Orlando's performance, he stormed off the court before the second quarter ended, despite the fact the team had a 15 point lead. It was an evening where the Magic did not play 48 minutes of basketball and as a result, the Pistons kept within striking distance from start to finish.
Six players scored in double-figures for Orlando, including Dwight Howard, who notched a double-double (22 points, 12 rebounds, 2 blocks) and broke Shaquille O'Neal's all-time franchise record for blocks during the game.
Congratulations to Superman.
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On Tuesday night, the Magic mustered only 14 points in the opening frame against the Pistons. Last night, Orlando dropped 40 on Detroit in the first quarter. The Magic ran a number of 4-out/1-in offensive sets to start the contest, allowing Howard to touch the ball early and often. On one possession, Howard received the ball in the post and kicked it out to J.J. Redick for a three. On another possession, Howard posted up and quickly maneuvered around Ben Wallace for a dunk. With Orlando playing inside-out as opposed to outside-in, things opened up around the perimeter rather quickly. Thus, Jameer Nelson and Ryan Anderson were able to execute the 1/4 pick & roll to perfection, as Nelson nailed a mid-range jumper on one occasion and Anderson connected on a three on another occasion.
Anderson wasn't done, either, as he scored in a variety of manners - on a layup, on a three (on a fast break), and on an and-one after Howard got an offensive rebound. Matchup nightmare, anyone?
The Magic stormed out of the gates in the quarter against the Pistons and it seemed like the home crowd was in store for a blowout. But that wouldn't be the case, at all.
In the second quarter, the second unit plus Redick did an effective job of managing the game and not allowing Detroit to cut into the deficit, thereby giving the Orlando starters plenty of rest on the bench. Unfortunately, the reserves did miss crucial opportunities to increase the lead. For instance, with the Magic up 15 at one point, the team did a great job on one particular offensive possession, moving the ball, and finding Mickael Pietrus for an open three. Problem was, Pietrus stepped on the out-of-bounds line during his attempt, thus nullifying the made basket. As a result, instead of the margin being +18, Rodney Stuckey proceeded to hit a bank shot less than 30 seconds later to decrease it to +13. It would be like this for the entire quarter, with the Pistons trailing by as little as 13 points and as much as 17 points. Very little movement in the deficit.
It should be noted that during the quarter, Howard executed tremendously out of 4-out/1-in offensive sets. Although Howard's teammates didn't connect on open shots, he was passing out of the post very well. That's something Howard has noticeably improved on this year and it's allowed Orlando to operate even more efficiently on offense. It's no coincidence that Detroit made the decision to double/triple team Howard the remainder of the evening, as a result, to throw off the team's offensive rhythm.
When the third quarter began, one had the inkling that the Magic would try to finish the Pistons off after letting 'em off the hook in the second quarter. For a few minutes, it would appear as if that would be the case. Nelson got things going quickly - hitting a three, making a mid-range jumper, and finding Redick for an open three - to balloon the lead to 19, the largest of the game. But Orlando wasn't able to extend it any further and as such, Detroit hung around.
Then Anderson sprained his ankle.
Then the fouls piled up. After committing eight fouls in the first half, the Magic ended up being called for 11 fouls in the third quarter. The Pistons, themselves, committed eight fouls in the period. In essence, it was a foul-fest and it made the game unbearable to watch with a whistle being called practically every possession. Foul trouble wasn't much of an issue for Orlando during the first two quarters, but it quickly became a problem in the second half.
Because Anderson was out with an injury, Matt Barnes had four fouls, and Redick had four fouls, Van Gundy was forced to play Jason Williams alongside Nelson for a few minutes late in the third quarter. The combination worked out okay but one could see that the Magic's depth was being stretched to its limit.
As a result, the Pistons took advantage in the fourth quarter and that's when Charlie Villanueva went nova. Once he entered the game at the 9:32 mark, Villaneuva made eight shots in a row - on driving layups, on mid-range jumpers, on threes - and single-handedly cut Orlando's lead to six with 2:39 left in the quarter before finally missing a shot shortly thereafter. Finally, the Magic were able to recover from Villanueva's onslaught and extend the margin back to 11 with roughly a minute to go in the contest. For the remainder of the game, both teams traded fouls, before Orlando was able to secure a victory over Detroit.
First off, the Pistons deserve a ton of credit for buckling down defensively after the Magic dropped 40 in the first quarter. Van Gundy noted during the presser that Will Bynum did an excellent job of disrupting Jameer's ability to run the offense, thus allowing Detroit a chance to remain in striking distance before making its run in the final period. And again, the guard play for the Pistons was great. Ben Gordon and Stuckey combined for 39 points.
But this was a game where Orlando had a chance to rout Detroit and didn't do so. Granted, Anderson's injury and the team's foul trouble made things tough but the Magic had numerous chances to blow the game wide open in the second quarter. However, the Orlando players played complacent and as Van Gundy stated afterwards, seemed content "to try to hang on and win a regular season game." Likewise, the defense was bad.
Also, something has to be said about the inconsistent officiating. Long-time readers know that I rarely, if ever, comment on NBA referees because it's not my style to do so. But it's a shame that fans of both teams were subjected to witnessing a game that had absolutely no flow to it, whatsoever. There were a total of 58 personal fouls called, with 36 in the second half alone. Nine players, on both teams combined, were in foul trouble. Howard, after not committing a single foul in the first half, fouled out of the game (six fouls in roughly 21 minutes of action). Howard's last foul, in which Villanueva initiated a majority of the contact while attempting a layup, appeared to be very questionable. All in all, just a weird game to watch.
The Magic will embark on another mini-road trip, where the team will face off against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday and the Charlotte Bobcats on Tuesday, before returning home next week to play the Cleveland Cavaliers in front of a nationally-televised audience.
Ryan Anderson is expected to underdog an MRI on his ankle tomorrow morning. His status is considered day-to-day, according to Magic spokesman George Galante.