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Orlando Magic 90, Charlotte Bobcats 86

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Jameer Nelson and Rashard Lewis led the Orlando Magic to a come-from-behind road win over the Charlotte Bobcats, 90-86, to take a commanding 3-0 lead in their first-round playoff series. Nelson tied his playoff career-high, set just last Sunday, with 32 points to lead all scorers and set a Magic postseason record with 19 points in the first quarter, shooting 7-of-7 from the field, including a four-point play with 1.3 seconds remaining in which he floated in a three-pointer with one hand. To say that he was feeling it would be to make an understatement. Lewis' 14-point, 7-rebound line doesn't overwhelm, but he made big plays when he needed to. He answered the call in the fourth period, scoring 4 points on 4-of-4 from the foul line on the two offensive possessions subsequent to Dwight Howard's fouling out. The Magic got Lewis to isolate both times, and he responded by driving and drawing contact. Orlando was really tested when Howard was disqualified, as he'd dominated the final frame on both ends of the floor, with 8 points, 4 rebounds, and 5 blocked shots. Fortunately for the Magic, Marcin Gortat put in his best work of the series, finishing with 5 points, 8 boards, a steal, and a blocked shot in relief of Howard. He made 3 of his 4 foul shots on Orlando's final 2 possessions as Charlotte fouled him to prolong the game.

Team Pace Efficiency eFG% FT Rate OReb% TO Rate
Magic 87 103.0 50.7% 27.1 28.9 24.0
Bobcats 89 96.2 45.3% 25.7 15.8 16.8
Green denotes a stat better than the team's regular-season average;
red denotes a stat worse than the team's regular-season average.

Once again, Nelson set the tone early with his aggressive drives and lethal jump-shooting. But the Bobcats, hosting their first playoff game, played much more under control than they did in Orlando, and committed fewer turnovers early on, which limited the Magic's fast break opportunities. No, it was Orlando's turn to make silly plays. Vince Carter, for instance, committed 3 of his 5 turnovers in the first half; he exceeded 5 turnovers in a game just once this regular season. Charlotte was more comfortable, and more successful, stripping the Magic as they drove or looked to pass. They played a sound defensive game for most of the night.

In the fourth quarter, though, they were largely helpless. I don't like the Magic posting Howard up in this series, because the Bobcats have defended him extremely well, and Orlando's four perimeter players have tended to freeze rather than move when he catches in the post. When he went out, and Gortat came in? Orlando got whatever it wanted. Here's how their possessions for the last 3:32 of game action ended:

  • Lewis makes two free throws

  • Lewis makes two free throws

  • Lewis misses an open three-pointer

  • Nelson makes a pull-up jumper after creating space with a jump-stop

  • Nelson misses a driving layup after a high screen-and-roll with Gortat

  • Nelson misses a driving layup after a high screen-and-roll with Gortat

At this point, Charlotte trails by 1 with 33.7 seconds to play and has a chance to take the lead. Coach Larry Brown calls a full timeout and a 20-second timeout to draw up an out-of-bounds play. The result is a quick, open three-point attempt by Stephen Jackson coming off a screen. It's no good, Carter gets the rebound, and the Bobcats foul. Really running out of chances, they are.

  • Carter makes two free throws

  • Gortat makes one free throw

So now Charlotte trails by 4 with 15.6 seconds to play. Orlando stands a great chance to win, but there's still sufficient time for the Bobcats to make a comeback. Point guard D.J. Augustin runs a high screen-and-roll with Boris Diaw and draws a blocking foul on Carter. He makes the ensuing free throws. The Magic would need to miss their foul shots, and the Bobcats would have to hurry up the court and make a quick basket, in order to have a chance here. But...

  • Gortat makes two free throws, after J.J. Redick inexplicably inbounds to him, a 68% shooter from the line, as the safety valve in the backcourt.

The real takeaway here is that the Magic got great looks at the basket in each of their 6 possessions between Howard fouling out and Charlotte playing the foul game. Nelson had open men beyond the arc on both of his missed layups, true, but he had open driving lanes. Given how well he's played in this series, you can forgive him for calling his own number twice there. Early in the third quarter, Bobcats point guard Raymond Felton threw a sloppy pass that Nelson managed to intercept for one of his 4 steals. He had a three-on-two break going, but pulled up from the right side and swished a two-pointer. TNT play-by-play man Matt Devlin called the play by saying, "Nelson says, 'I'll do it myself.'" That's been the story of the series so far. Maybe now he'll get more recognition for his pick-and-roll skills.

The Bobcats scored only 6 points after Howard fouled out, and a lot of credit goes to Orlando's defense. But I can't help but think that Charlotte did Orlando some favors on their possessions. Boris Diaw rushed a three-pointer, and Larry Hughes clanked another trey well short near the end of the shot clock on the next possession. Hughes learned his lesson and drove to the basket on the next play, drawing a foul on Carter and converting the free throws. Felton got a nice layup inside. But overall, you'd have to say the Bobcats settled for too many jumpers late in the game, and Jackson's missed three-pointer really nicely sums up Charlotte's approach down the stretch. Just too early to take that shot--though he was, again, very open on a beautiful play Brown drew up for him.

Earlier today, I wrote about how incredible Gerald Wallace has been in this series for Charlotte. In the first meaningful home playoff game of his career, he disappointed. 4-of-12 shooting for 13 points for Wallace, though he did add 8 rebounds and 3 steals. He and Jackson, the Bobcats' first and second options on offense, missed 20 of their 30 shot attempts today. If I'm Brown, that's the point I'm emphasizing over the next few days: that our top two guys had bad nights, but we still only lost by 4.

The counter, if I'm Van Gundy? It took an uncommonly good performance from their reserves--33 points, led by Hughes' 14 on 5-of-6 from the floor--and an uncommonly bad one from ours, for them to even stand a chance. At home.