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Orlando Magic 126, Golden State Warriors 118

In a long, wild game featuring plenty of offense, the Orlando Magic battled back to defeat the Golden State Warriors, 126-118, on the strength of a 17-4 in the final 5:08 of action. Golden State's Monta Ellis led all scorers with 33 points, while Anthony Randolph tallied 28 points, 13 boards, 5 assists, and a steal in just 35 minutes off the bench. Yet the Magic's balanced, efficient attack proved more potent; three Magic players exceeded 20 points, with three others cracking double-digit scoring. Vince Carter had a vintage, all-around performance, by far his best since joining the Magic: 27 points on 7-of-13 shooting, 5 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 steals, and just 1 turnover in 34 minutes. For a guy who dominated the ball in the second half against a ball-hawking team like Golden State to only cough it up once is impressive. With the victory, Orlando won its 7th straight road game, to tie a franchise record.

Team Pace Efficiency eFG% FT Rate OReb% TO Rate
Magic 97 129.9 60.8% 48.6 24.1 16.5
Warriors 105 111.9 49.4% 33.7 24.4 14.4
Green denotes a stat better than the team's season average;
red denotes a stat worse than the team's season average.

When Corey Maggette made a driving layup in transition to give Golden State a 114-109 lead, I couldn't envision the Magic getting back into the game. The Warriors were simply too quick and too active, on both ends of the floor, for the Magic to handle. But the Warriors just ran out of gas, to use a well-worn phrase, at the end, and Orlando blitzed them. Anthony Johnson couldn't find any open passing lanes, so he just drove to the hole for an easy layup to start the Magic's rally. A fast-break three-pointer from Mickael Pietrus knotted the score at 114, with Carter nailing another transition three after the Warriors' subsequent miss. The Magic had scored 9 points in 90 seconds to take a 117-114 lead, which left the Warriors visibly shaken. The young team did not respond well to the pressure, turning the ball over on 3 of their next 4 possessions while the Magic added another 5 points to their lead. Tonight was a case of the better, more experienced team grinding out a win against an overmatched, yet talented and driven, opponent.

I really cannot say enough good things about Golden State's play in the first 19 minutes of the second half. Their offense never gave the Magic a chance to react. Smart passes, quick cuts, finishes in traffic. Randolph saved a ton of would-be empty possessions with offensive rebounds or dives to the floor to retrieve loose balls, while Ellis hit jumpers from just about everywhere. Orlando's a great defensive team, but Golden State's great ball movement and off-ball cuts were too much to handle. Yet at the end of the game, the offense stagnated, for a few reasons. First, the Magic started hitting their shots again, which stopped the Warriors' running game; it's hard to fast break when you're taking the ball out of your own net. Second, the Warriors were tired. Ellis played the entire game, with Stephen Curry only resting for 1:51. Weak legs. Third--and this is me playing pop-psychologist--they were just shaken up. All 3 of the turnovers I mentioned in the previous paragraph were unforced: a senseless, telegraphed pass from Curry to Vladimir Radmanovic that Carter picked off with ease; a Curry travel; and an Ellis travel. Sometimes, defenders can bait ballhandlers into a travel. Not in these instances. Curry and Ellis just shuffled their feet, for no reason, in the triple-threat position.

Orlando led by as many as 15 points in the first half on the strength of its three-point shooting, connecting on 8 of its first 9 tries from long-range. Golden State countered with a series of contested jumpers. Neither team could keep up that pace for the whole game, so it appeared as though Dwight Howard would decide the game. If all else failed, the Magic could just dump the ball to their franchise center and let him work against the Warriors, who are especially ill-equipped to handle him. He scored 12 points in the first 8:23 of the game, with Carter and Jason Williams doing an exemplary job of finding him on his rolls to the basket. He also created his own offense with some sweeping hooks, which looked excellent. It appeared as though he was on his way to a 30-point night, and that the Magic would cruise to victory.

But that's not how it happened. Saddled with foul trouble, Howard couldn't get back into the rhythm of the game. His 8 rebounds led the team, and his 4 defensive boards during the final 7:52 were key in preventing the Warriors from getting second-chance opportunities, but he was mostly invisible. His backup, Marcin Gortat, picked up 5 fouls in just 12 minutes, forcing the Magic to run their offense from the outside-in, as opposed to inside-out, as is their custom.

No problem, though. Carter was simply magnificent tonight. 27 points on 13 shot attempts, just 2 of them from three-point range. Carter was visibly in attack mode tonight. Golden State doesn't have a shot-blocking presence, and with the Magic in need of scoring, Carter took over. 19 points in the second half, 12 of Orlando's 25 points in an anemic third quarter in which they gave up the lead, to go with 7 assists and 5 boards. This game was an excellent demonstration of why GM Otis Smith sought Carter's services this summer. We've seen Carter assert himself offensively earlier this season, most notably at Boston, when he needed 29 shots and 6 turnovers to score 26 points. But tonight, he asserted himself, and did so efficiently. The Warriors play crummy defense in general, so it's easy to point to that factor as the biggest one in Carter's big night. Go ahead. 27 points on 13 shots is impressive against anyone at this level.

Which brings me to my next point: the Warriors played inspired defense in the third period, which caught the Magic off guard. Orlando had trouble setting its offense, with Carter, Williams, or even Pietrus standing 30 feet from the basket looking for a receiver with fewer than 14 ticks on the shot clock. Golden State dug in, denied the ball, and played the passing lanes beautifully; Williams may never live down the pass he threw that Radmanovic took the other way for an emphatic jam on his head, the basketball equivalent of an interception returned for a touchdown, with the scoring player stiffarming the quarterback on his way to the endzone. Not just any defense can force the steady Williams, who had committed 7 turnovers in his 264 minutes as the Magic's starting point guard prior to tonight, to commit 4 turnovers in a single game. Give the Warriors credit for really turning up their D for a big stretch of the second half.

Perhaps lost in the overall story of this game--veteran team goes updouble-digits on the road, young home team responds with a flurry of spectacular plays on both sides of the ball to take the lead, only to crumble when the veteran team regains its focus--is that Stan Van Gundy appears to have adjusted his rotation. Brandon Bass has claimed the backup power forward job from Ryan Anderson, who earned his first DNP-CD of the season tonight. Bass played just 9:25, but produced, with 4 points, 4 rebounds, and an assist in that stretch. Bass matches up well with the Warriors, who don't have anyone who can handle him on the interior. Playing Anderson, the three-point marksman, might have only fed the Warriors' fast-break game, as long misses tend to lead to long rebounds. Bass, by all accounts, handled his temporary demotion well and responded on the practice floor and in the film room. It's far too early to say Anderson has fallen out of the rotation, but this situation is one to monitor as the season progresses.

Here we are, 9 paragraphs into a fairly lengthy recap, and I've yet to mention Rashard Lewis. 20 points on 6-of-12 shooting, 3 three-pointers, 4 rebounds, 4 assists. A quiet, steady performance from the Magic's veteran combo forward, who's now hit 17 of his last 31 three-point attempts in the last 5 games.

A word on Pietrus before wrapping this recap up: he was clearly motivated to stick it to his former team, as he was in his only other game against Golden State, which came last season. In his 2 career games against the Warriors, he's averaged 18 points on 62.5% eFG%. Tonight, he made a spectacular, Michael Jordan-esque fadeaway from the right baseline, and drew the foul. He also sank 6 of his 7 free throws, coming into the evening shooting a mere 50% from the stripe. My favorite Pietrus moment tonight, though, came just 2 minutes into the game: Williams picked off a bad pass by Radmanovic, and Pietrus sprinted from the right sideline to the left corner, waving his hand in the air the entire time. Carter found him there, wide open, where he drained his second trey of the night, and from the exact same spot. We sometimes get on Pietrus for not playing smart, but he knew just where he needed to be on that possession. Counting tonight, Pietrus is 13-of-25 from the left corner and 10-of-24 from the right corner this season, per's Hotspots feature.

And with that, I'm spent. A good win for the Magic. If Carter continues to select his shots judiciously, Orlando will be in great shape.