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San Antonio Spurs 106, Orlando Magic 97

The Orlando Magic played a sound game for the first 42 minutes or so against the San Antonio Spurs tonight, but couldn't keep up with the Spurs' three-point barrage in the fourth quarter as San Antonio snapped their four-game winning streak by a 106-97 final. The Spurs shot 5-of-5 on three-pointers in the final period, and Manu Ginobili's crucial three-point play with 30 seconds remaining gave them a four-point lead. J.J. Redick's open three-pointer off a perfectly executed out-of-bounds set rimmed out, ending Orlando's chances of grabbing a win. The Magic got 26 points, 18 boards, 3 steals, and 2 blocked shots from Dwight Howard as he decisively won his head-to-head matchup with Tim Duncan, but the supporting cast didn't come up with nearly enough to compensate for the Spurs' incredible offense. Jameer Nelson and Rashard Lewis combined for 29 points on 25 shots, but foul trouble and a late knee or ankle injury to Vince Carter limited him to 17 minutes. He shot 2-of-6 from the floor for 8 points, but seemed more inclined to drive to the basket in the minutes leading up to his injury. He may have been able to make solid plays for Orlando had he not landed awkwardly on Matt Bonner's foot following a difficult driving layup attempt.

San Antonio, meanwhile, got incredible productivity from Ginobili, Tony Parker, and Bonner. That trio combined for 64 points on 22-of-40 shooting, including 9-of-13 from beyond the arc. The Magic tended to play solid defense, and I'd say that they contested most of San Antonio's 19 three-point attempts effectively. Sometimes, a team gets burned despite playing solid defense, which is what took place tonight.

To be clear, Magic coach Stan Van Gundy wasn't pleased with his team's defense, saying that they have to both lock down the paint and eliminate their opponents' outside shooting against teams of the Spurs' caliber. But he accepted some of the blame for the team's at-times iffy closeouts, saying he hadn't put his team through as many close-out drills this season as he has in prior years.

Team Pace Efficiency eFG% FT Rate OReb% TO Rate
Magic 92 105.1 54.4% 12.5 17.6 17.3
Spurs 90 117.3 57.1% 23.4 8.1 11.1
Green denotes a stat better than the team's season average;
red denotes a stat worse than the team's season average.

Turnovers also were a problem for the Magic. Leading by three points after the third period, they turned the ball over on each of their first three possessions of the final quarter, helping the Spurs claim a one-point lead. Brandon Bass continued his stretch of subpar play tonight and was responsible for two of those three opening turnovers. Additionally, he fouled Ginobili on a made three-point basket with 9 seconds to play in the first half. Bass finished with 4 points on 2-of-5 shooting, with 3 turnovers, in 12 minutes off the Magic's bench tonight. His usually reliable mid-range jumper has gone cold and, for whatever reason, he's not drawing fouls as prodigiously as he did earlier this year. As a result, he's not contributing much at the offensive end.

But in general, it's hard to feel too bad about this loss from the Magic's perspective. The Spurs never led by more than 6 points until Ginobili's aforementioned three-point play. Perhaps this view is a bit reductive, but it seemed to me that the Magic continued to get good looks at the basket late in the game, but simply didn't convert. And at the other end, Orlando limited the Spurs to what I felt were tough looks, but they fell anyway. In every respect, I feel more confident about this Magic team now than I did prior to tipoff.

The biggest story for Orlando tonight was Howard's thorough dominance of Duncan, an elite defender even at his relatively advanced age, and of San Antonio, which executes a disciplined, effective defensive gameplan on a consistent basis. Howard used defenders' leverage against them, favoring spin moves to free himself. He also has greater command of his hook shots, meaning he's a threat to score even when he's unable to get great position, or the defense otherwise prevents him from getting all the way to the cup.

But, to borrow a baseball term, Howard flashed some leather tonight as well. He played some masterful pick-and-roll defense, particularly late in the third quarter, when the Spurs committed four straight turnovers due almost entirely to his disruptive shows and hedges.

Overall, the Magic showed more good tonight than bad. Lewis looked comfortable offensively for the third straight night, though he did miss 5 of his 7 two-point attempts. Redick scored 11 points--though he needed 11 shots to do it--and may be headed in the right direction after a miserable start. Chris Duhon has a quicker trigger on his jumper, making him a scoring threat for the first time in a Magic uniform. He drilled two shots off the catch in the first half, whereas in prior games he might be more inclined to give a fake, then dribble the ball out to set up yet another high screen-and-roll.

Both teams treated the viewing public with some spectacular ball. As I said earlier, no team led by more than 6 points for the first 47:30 of the game. The teams combined for 21 treys in 37 attempts. Howard put on a show inside. Parker and Ginobili hit some spectacular shots under pressure. This game, from an entertainment standpoint, is as good as it gets in the regular season. It's only too bad the Magic's shooting went cold in the final stages of the game, robbing us of a down-to-the-wire finish.