Hot three-point shooting and excellent execution helped the Orlando Magic lead the Utah Jazz by as many as 18 points tonight, but Utah exposed Orlando's soft interior defense to work its way back into the game and eventually win it, 120-111, to snap Orlando's 8-game road winning streak and dash the Magic's hopes of improving to 18-4 for the first time in franchise history. Deron Williams became the latest point guard to exploit the Magic, carrying the scoring load--a team-high 32--with a combination of jumpers and aggressive drives while distributing the ball to tally 15 assists to 1 turnover. Carlos Boozer added 20 points and 14 rebounds for Utah, which rebounded after an atrocious loss to the L.A. Lakers last night. Vince Carter's 34 points paced Orlando, which also got solid production (47 points on 70.3% eFGs), but the Magic's inability to get a stop in the second half cost them the game.
|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 took its largest lead, 51-33, at the 7:11 mark of the second quarter, when Anthony Johnson drained his 7th and 8th free throws of the season. Utah closed the half on a 19-9 run, then blew the game open in the third quarter, outscoring Orlando by 38-21 to take firm control of the game.
Utah overcame that 18-point deficit with both its defense and offense. The Jazz ran extra defenders at Magic center Dwight Howard all game long, and at odd intervals, so as to keep him guessing. This approach limited Howard to 18 points in 44 minutes, and forced him to commit 3 turnovers. Utah dared Orlando's perimeter scorers to deliver, and some of them did: Carter, as mentioned, had 34, while Ryan Anderson scored 16. Reserve Matt Barnes did most of his work inside and in transition, but ultimately, the Jazz's defensive scheme worked. The Magic were out-of-sorts at times, which isn't always a problem when they're playing great defense.
But that's just it. They didn't.
Williams orchestrated the Jazz's offense beautifully. 15 assists against 1 turnover in 42 minutes? For a point guard who took 18 shots form the field and 15 at the line? He played essentially mistake-free tonight, and it showed. His teammates played well, too. They knew where they needed to be, Williams delivered the ball, and scored. Maybe that's reductive, but goodness, that Jazz made everything look easy tonight. That 18-point deficit had more to do with Orlando's hot outside shooting than it did with anything the Jazz were doing wrong offensively.
Howard was a step slow defending the paint all night, which has become a disturbing trend. Boozer and Williams hooked up on the pick-and-roll successfully numerous times. Williams' dribble-penetration also drew Magic defenders from the weak-side, freeing Jazz wingmen to sneak along the baseline for a layup.
Ultimately, the game came down to which team cooled off first. Orlando's three-pointers didn't drop in the second half, while the Jazz continued apace with their points in the paint and surprisingly effective midrange game.
The lightly regarded reserve swingman C.J. Miles scored the quietest 22 points off the bench I've ever seen, and he wound up icing the game with a three-pointer to beat the shot clock at the 1:03 mark of the game, giving Utah an insurmountable 114-103 lead.
Now, this is not the sort of game where the Magic can say, "hey, we played well, they played better." That's simply not the case. The game wasn't as close as the final margin might indicate, as the Jazz surrendered layup after layup in the waning minutes in order to keep Orlando from bombing its way back into the game with three-pointers. 8 points in the final minute for the Magic, and they were all academic.
Utah just utterly outclassed the Magic tonight. They worked harder, from tip to horn, than Orlando did. Their effort paid off when they locked down on defense, while their offense sustained. For example: Orlando is among the league's worst offensive reobunding teams, and by choice; coach Stan Van Gundy likes to send four men back after the shot's release in order to cut down on the opponent's transition game. But they're much better on the glass than the Jazz made 'em look tonight. In the second half, in which Utah outscored Orlando, 68-51, the Magic grabbed 1 offensive rebound in 21 opportunities. One-and-done for them on offense.
The Magic never really strung together any meaningful stops, and looked overmatched defensively the entire night. This is, in brief, a disconcerting loss. If there's a positive spin, it's that Barnes played solid defense on Williams during the game's closing minutes as Orlando tried to rally. I had no idea Barnes had that defensive skill in 'im, so, uh, yeah. There's that.
In a lot of ways, this game was the polar opposite of the Magic's road win over the Atlanta Hawks on Thanksgiving. Atlanta shot its way to an early lead, but the Magic's shut its offense down in the second half, worked harder in every phase of the game, and won going away. In general--and this is a subject I'd like to cover in better detail soon--the Magic tend to jump out to early leads on the road, then let the opponent get back into it. The TNT cameras cut to Van Gundy tonight after a late-first-half Jazz bucket lamenting his team's "playing the scoreboard;" I'm not an expert lip-reader, but I'm darn near 100% positive that's what he said, because it's one of his favorite phrases and because it applies. Orlando's an excellent road team, but it wasn't going to continue winning 10 games out of 12 squandering leads like that. It caught up with the Magic tonight, and maybe they'll learn from it. Maybe not.
There's no time to worry about the loss, though. Orlando plays again tomorrow night at Phoenix, one of the league's most dynamic offensive teams. Howard (44 minutes) and Carter (38) were pressed into long duty tonight, so it's up for the Magic's other players to pick up the slack, if there is any. Rashard Lewis, who managed 10 points in 27 minutes tonight due to foul trouble and personal preference, is a prime candidate.