In what has become a pattern of sorts, the Orlando Magic played poorly for three quarters against an inferior team before buckling down in the fourth quarter and eking out the victory. This time, the score was a dismal 81-78 in what must have been a hard game to watch for fans of either team. The 22-win Memphis Grizzlies gave the Magic all they could handle in the first 36 minutes of play, but struggled to score against Orlando's dominant 2nd-half defense. Meanwhile, Hedo "Mr. Fourth Quarter" Turkoglu rallied the Magic to victory with 20 points and 7 assists, tallying 10 of those points in the fourth period. Reserve two-guard J.J. Redick, playing crunch-time minutes ahead of the struggling starter Courtney Lee, scored all 9 of his points in the final frame as Orlando won its 58th game of the season, the second-highest total in franchise history, with 4 games still on the schedule.
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Through three quarters, it looked like this one would wind up going in the L column for the home team, though. The Magic shot 4-of-19 in the third period against one of the league's worst defensive teams, scoring a season-low 10 points in the period. Memphis scored 17, but the Magic didn't make it easy. And here's the biggest difference between last year's Magic team and this year's: stifling defense. Last year's team was well above-average defensively, but not to this extent. The Magic canned only 4 three-pointers tonight, in 19 attempts, and they could not have overcome that poor outside shooting last year. Then again, they didn't have to, as they made at least 5 treys in all 82 games.
I know it's only the Grizzlies we're talking about, but the Magic were nonetheless able to stifle them for the game's final 24 minutes. In the fourth period, as the Magic clawed their way back into the game, it was the tall-ball pairing of Dwight Howard and Tony Battie that made life miserable for Memphis. Good luck getting into the paint, guys. About all the Grizzlies could do was shoot contested, out-of-rhythm jumpers. For the game, Memphis tallied 6 assists on 29 made baskets as the Magic discouraged ball movement. And with Turkoglu driving aggressively to the basket, the Magic didn't need their three-pointers to drop. Turk had plenty of open layups in the fourth quarter and did a great job avoiding taking silly "dagger" jumpers. As Memphis' defense keyed-in on him, Turk looked to distribute, and that worked well, too. It's really hard to complain about much of anything that happened in the fourth period.
Which is great, because the Magic entered it facing an 8-point deficit, at home, against one of the league's worst overall teams. I'm in agreement with Stan Van Gundy, who believes that effort is not a problem for Orlando, but rather fatigue. His team played hard, if not smart, all night. And it was indeed encouraging for Dwight Howard to accept the fact that he was not going to get many calls offensively, and instead focus on anchoring the defense.
An ugly win, but it's a win nonetheless. At least be proud of the team for sticking with the game. And be proud of the bench--Redick, Battie, Tyronn Lue, and Marcin Gortat all had productive nights--for giving the Magic a lift when most of the people playing ahead of them weren't contributing. Rashard Lewis (6 points, 2-of-8 shooting, 2 boards, only 28 minutes), I am looking straight at you, sir.
As for Memphis... only Mike Conley stood out. He shot a perfect 6-of-6 in the first half, but went 1-of-5 in the second when Rafer Alston asserted himself more. He finished with 17 points and the Grizzlies' lone three-pointer. Rudy Gay led Memphis with 18 points, but didn't do much of anything except leave Mickael Pietrus in the dust when the Magic's "defensive stopper" tried guarding him. He'd probably like to have his 4 missed free throws back in a game his team lost by 3.