The Orlando Magic used a third-quarter rally to get an edge against the Miami Heat, but an offensive dry spell late in the fourth quarter let the Heat send the game to overtime, where Orlando prevailed by a 108-102 final score. For the second consecutive night, Magic center Dwight Howard racked up too many fouls to stay on the floor, leaving it up to Vince Carter, Rashard Lewis, and Jameer Nelson to carry the offensive load. Carter and Lewis delivered, combining for 51 points on 59.5% True Shooting. Fittingly, it was Carter's feed to Lewis in the left corner for three, which gave Orlando a 6-point lead with 28.4 seconds to play, that sealed victory for the Magic. And though Nelson had a forgettable game (15 points on 7-of-16 shooting, 3 assists, 3 turnovers), he made key plays on both sides of the ball which proved valuable in the win. Dwyane Wade led all players with 36 points and 7 assists, while also leading his team in rebounding, pulling down 10 boards on the night. Orlando's win knots the season series at two games apiece, but the way the game played out certainly raises questions about the Magic's ability to finish off the Heat in a seven-game series.
|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.
Now I don't want to sound too negative here, because the Magic managed to win despite the deck being stacked against them in several ways, outlined here in my game preview. But it's hard to feel encouraged about a close win when the game never should have come to that. A 12-point lead with 5:07 to play should be enough to hold off a team as offensively ordinary as Miami, even on the road. Instead, the Heat scored on 8 of their next 11 possessions before Wade came up empty at the end of regulation, with Howard and Matt Barnes forcing him into a hotly contested jumper that he tried to bank in from an impossible angle. And on the other end, the crisp, quick ball movement that helped the Magic succeed for most of the game vanished. The Magic couldn't get any clean looks against Miami's stingy defense, with O'Neal shutting Howard down inside and its cast of perimeter defenders making life difficult for Carter, Nelson, and Lewis.
Nelson, for all the questionable shots he took tonight, merits praise for sinking the tying jumper with 15.6 to play. Matched up against Mario Chalmers--not a slouch defensively--on the right wing just inside the three-point arc, Nelson bided his time with several dribbles before stepping into an 18-footer that found the bottom of the net, atoning for a missed free throw on the Magic's previous possession which could have given Orlando a one-point lead.
The game ball tonight, however, goes to Lewis. Carter scored 27 to Lewis' 24, but it was Lewis' overall impact that I believe swung the game in Orlando's favor. 17 shot attempts for Lewis, with 9 coming from two-point range and the other 8 coming from beyond the arc. Once again, he exploited Michael Beasley's lack of skill and/or interest on the defensive end, blowing by him numerous times and finishing with a two-pointer. This strategy plays into Miami's hands a bit, as it'd prefer for Lewis to shoot twos instead of threes. But there's a right and a wrong way to chase someone off the three-point line, and Beasley did it the wrong way, neither funneling Lewis into help defenders nor recovering in time to challenge the shot. Should these teams meet in the postseason, this matchup might prove to be what decides the series.
11 boards for Lewis, which ties a season high and is another area of the game in which he picked up Howard's slack.
What's got to worry coach Stan Van Gundy and the Magic is O'Neal's ability to take Howard out of the game, in a literal and figurative sense. Literally, O'Neal gets Howard in foul trouble and forces him to the bench; figuratively, he gets him too focused on foul calls and non-calls to be fully engaged offensively. Five blocks for O'Neal tonight, 4 of them on Howard. For the season, Howard's averaged just 11.5 points per game on 40.1% shooting from the field against the Heat, due almost entirely to O'Neal's presence. I give him a ton of credit for standing up to Howard this year because, quite frankly, Howard made him look silly and ineffectual as recently as last season, when he averaged 25.3 points on 64.8% shooting. So O'Neal has more than halved Howard's scoring while shaving almost 25 whole percentage points off his conversion rate from the field. Yup, O'Neal has regained his health and some of his mojo, and as a result has proven to be among the most capable one-on-one defenders of Howard in the league.
And Wade? Stop it. He continued his mastery of the Magic. Let's run through those numbers again: 36 points on 59.2% True Shooting, 10 rebounds, 7 assists, 1 steal, 1 block, and just 1 turnover in 45 minutes, dominating the ball on every possession. He's unreal. Fortunately for Orlando, Van Gundy's decision to double-team him throughout the overtime period--a look Van Gundy will try against scorching hot perimeter players with the game on the line--paid off. He scored just 2 points in the period, with Beasley and O'Neal ending 2 possessions apiece, wit mixed results. You can live with O'Neal taking open 18-footers late in a close game; better that than a Wade layup, which is what he was getting with the tired, hobbled Barnes checking him.
Give Orlando's defense credit for keeping Wade occupied in overtime. With 3 guys left to cover 4 players, the defense becomes a weak-side zone that most rotate quickly to counter any pass by the double-teamed ballhandler. Miami did Orlando a few favors by standing around during these sets, but when the ball did move from side to side, the Magic were right there.
Oh, and something to watch: Howard picked up his 15th technical foul of the season, senselessly spiking the ball in overtime after picking up his 5th foul. The technical free throw, plus Beasley's two additional looks, gave Miami a one-point lead quite early on. He's now one technical away from an automatic 1-game suspension, which doesn't bother me as much as the timing of the technical does. You're in a tight game against a rocking-and-rolling home team with a dynamic perimeter scorer; you are not in any sort of position to concede points like that. Van Gundy and Howard's teammates have to do a better job of reining him in when he gets hot.