Led by rookie Courtney Lee's career-high 24 points, the Orlando Magic fended off the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday night, 96-87, to even their Eastern Conference Quarterfinals series at one game apiece. Orlando won despite its starting frontcourt of Dwight Howard, Hedo Turkoglu, and Rashard Lewis combining to shoot 11-of-30 from the field; Andre Miller scoring 30 points on 12-of-20 shooting; and Howard fouling out with 3:11 to play--get this--on an offensive foul in which the defender didn't even fall down. Unreal. The Magic held an 8-point lead at that juncture, but prevented Philly from drawing to any closer than 5 points subsequent to Howard's disqualification. For the second straight game, the Magic shot the ball poorly throughout and watched the Sixers erase an 18-point deficit, yet they avoided a repeat of Sunday's disastrous result with an improved commitment to defense.
Really, the Magic didn't execute much better than they did in Game One, but they made the hustle/effort plays which proved to be the difference; the offensive rebounding percentages for both teams, detailed in the chart above, are reasonable indicators of the Magic's effort. Bemoan the nearly-blown 18-point lead if you like, but at least note the Magic extended their lead in every quarter after ending the first period knotted at 21. Philadelphia was largely unable to score in the half-court, instead getting its buckets in transition or off its own broken plays. At the 3:51 mark of the second quarter, Anthony Johnson missed a deep three-pointer and the rebound went out-of-bounds. The Magic played lock-down defense on the Sixers' ensuing possession, forcing Thaddeus Young to pick up his dribble along the right baseline with seconds remaining on the shot clock. This is great defense. Then Andre Miller cut across the left baseline, took a spot-on feed from Young, and put the ball in off the glass at the shot-clock buzzer. This is upsetting.
One has to think the Magic will run away with this series once their shooters come around, yet one also has to wonder if that will ever happen. Lewis and Turkoglu continue to struggle from the field, although to their credit they both made concerted efforts to drive the ball to the basket when their jumpers not falling; the pair combined for 19 free throw attempts as opposed to 8 in Game One. And tonight Lewis grabbed arguably the biggest rebound of the Magic's season when he snuck through Philly's defense to snag a missed jumper by Turk, then put it up and in to give the Magic a decisive 92-84 lead with 28 seconds to play. Lewis was also the Magic's best playmaker, finishing with 6 assists. I can live with his shooting poorly as long as he's still engaged in other aspects of the game.
Courtney Lee was again magnificent, setting a Magic franchise record for playoff scoring by a rookie. Yet the Sixers are largely content with his carrying the load. As David Whitley points out, Lee's per-game scoring average of 21 in the playoffs is a far cry from his regular-season 8.5, and Philly will probably not adjust its defense to focus on Lee if it means leaving Lewis and Turkoglu open; it'll bet that Lee will eventually have an off-night, and force the Magic to adjust their offense accordingly.
In other words, neither team has much to worry about defensively. The Magic can live with Miller, Andre Iguodala, and Young combining for 71 points while the other 8 players combine for 16. Make the Sixers go one-on-one, in a halfcourt setting, and they'll likely not muster enough offense to succeed. Missed shots, yes, but also silly turnovers. Nearly one-in-five Sixers possessions ended with a turnover, which may have been the difference tonight.
Another potential difference--and this is mostly trivia--is that Orlando converted two four-point plays in a game they won by 9 points. While Lee connected on one of his many long jumpers, Samuel Dalembert fouled Howard under the basket while the pair jockeyed for rebounding position. As he walked to the bench, Dalembert was whistled for a technical foul. Lewis made the technical free throw, Howard made the away-from-the-ball-foul free throw, and Orlando had its first four-point play of the evening. The second came when Hedo Turkoglu drew a shooting foul on Marreese Speights, made the first free throw, missed the second, grabbed his own rebound, and drilled a trey seconds later. Two huge possessions by Orlando.
On a final note, Anthony Johnson continues to play exceptionally well in reserve for Orlando. He received more minutes than starter Rafer Alston did tonight. Magic coach Stan Van Gundy explained that decision to Orlando Magic Daily after the game thusly:
"I think he can match up better with Andre Miller," Van Gundy said. "And that way we have Lee on Lou Williams. Tonight I'd rather have those matchups than have to put Lee on Miller and Alston on Lou Williams."
Johnson's defense was solid, but his offense was even better. We in the 3QC community sometimes rail on A.J.'s heat-checks during GameThreads, but we should also respect his ability to drill open shots off a kick-out, provided he's squared up first. Great, great, great showing by A.J. in these first two games. Let's hope he keeps it up.
Orlando looks to take a 2-1 edge this Friday in Philadelphia.