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San Antonio Spurs 112, Orlando Magic 100

The Orlando Magic fought hard against a formidable San Antonio Spurs team Friday night, but ultimately had no answer for Manu Ginobili or Tim Duncan and lost, 112-100. Ginobili led everyone with a season-high 43 points on 13-of-25 from the floor and 14-of-17 from the foul line. Duncan, meanwhile, shrugged off early foul trouble--he picked up 3 in the first 4:32 of the game and sat until intermission--to score 23 points on 10-of-12 shooting to overwhelm Orlando's tired, slow defense. The Magic held their own offensively until the game's final minutes, besting their average points-per-possession mark and shooting an impressive effective field-goal percentage of 55.0. Rashard Lewis and Mickael Pietrus led Orlando with 18 points each and combined for 6 of its 10 three-pointers. But Dwight Howard's foul trouble and free-throw-shooting woes--he missed 9 of his 11 chances from the stripe--coupled with inefficient nights from Vince Carter and Jameer Nelson, put the Magic in a tough spot. Role-players like Pietrus and J.J. Redick stepped up to make the offense respectable, but again, the poor defense was the trouble here. San Antonio scored 112 points on 91 possessions for an offensive rating of 123.5, the best showing against the Magic since the Cavaliers rung 'em up for 131.6 in the last game before the All-Star break. Orlando drops to 9-9 on the second game of back-to-back sets this season, but its record stands at 44-14 when it has at least 1 day of rest.

Team Pace Efficiency eFG% FT Rate OReb% TO Rate
Magic 88 113.9 55.0% 15.0 26.2 12.5
Spurs 91 123.5 55.4% 24.1 22.2 8.8
Green denotes a stat better than the team's season average;
red denotes a stat worse than the team's season average.

Games in these situations present challenges to bloggers of the team on the second night of a back-to-back. If it loses, well, shucks, the schedule wasn't on its side. But if it wins? Outstanding, because it probably shouldn't have, and bloggers can play up the "overcoming adversity" angle. There's not often middle ground, in terms of blogging, here. I have to avoid falling into that "well, shucks" trap, which quite often does not credit the winning team near enough. And I don't doubt I'm guilty of it from time to time. Feel free to call me on that.

So I'll get it out of the way now: San Antonio played an excellent game. They shut down the Magic on the interior even in the first half without Duncan, playing the perimeter-oriented power forward Matt Bonner at center for some stretches. And on offense, Ginobili could hardly do any wrong. He's the single biggest reason the Spurs trailed by just 2 at halftime, keeping them afloat despite Duncan's foul trouble, Tony Parker's injury absence, and coach Gregg Popovich's early ejection. Just a magnificent performance, and it goes beyond the scoring. He's a brilliant passer from the two-guard position, finished with 5 assists on the night, and was the de-facto point guard for some of the fourth quarter as second-year point man George Hill took a well-earned breather. Ginobili's a one-time All-Star, a winner of the Sixth Man of the Year award, and an Olympic gold medalist, yet continues to be among the league's most overlooked players.

This wasn't an instance of a great player get unusually hot from the outside; he scored 43 with just 2 three-pointers. No, he drove into the teeth of Orlando's defense all night long, finishing all manner of off-balance scoops, floaters, and leaners with defenders draped over him. And if he couldn't finish, he drew plenty of fouls. Again, 43 points for Ginobili, and not many of them came easily.

Ginobili was hardly the only Spur to put his head down and drive the lane. Bonner, in fact, proved uncharacteristically aggressive. Prior to tonight, 62.9% of his shot attempts this season came from long range. But tonight, he took 8 of his 14 shots from inside the arc and played a style that resembled Lewis', attacking off the dribble whenever anyone chased him off the three-point line, then firing jumpers or baby-hooks before the help defense could recover. He finished with 15 points as the Spurs' third-leading scorer, which is extra remarkable because of how hard he worked defensively.

Throughout all four quarters, the Magic ran several pick-and-rolls in order to get Bonner switched onto Carter, Nelson, or even Mickael Pietrus. Magic color commentator Matt Guokas joked that he was going to get windburn at the rate those guys sped past him sometimes, but Bonner mostly acquitted himself. That Carter and Nelson took several long jumpers off the dribble even with the speed mismatch--or, with Lewis' size mismatch against a Spurs wing in the post--at their disposal only helped his cause.

Orlando lost by double-digits, but was still in the game late, and could have drawn even closer had it not made some key errors. A pair of free throws from Redick cut the Spurs' lead to 4 with 5:08 to play. Here's how the Magic's possessions ended from that point until the final horn:

  • Howard misses two free throws after drawing a shooting foul on Duncan
  • Redick misses a quick three-pointer
  • Howard makes one of two free throws as the Spurs intentionally foul him away from the ball; he was fortunate not to receive a technical foul himself, as he jawed with Spurs assistant coach Mike Budenholzer on the sideline. Budenholzer, who took over upon Popovich's ejection, made the call to hack Howard.
  • Howard makes one of two free throws as the Spurs foul him away from the ball once again.

Howard fouled out on the Spurs' ensuing possession, but he wasn't the only man to make an early exit. A Spurs fan sitting behind Orlando's bench began heckling Howard, but he didn't get too far, as security escorted him out. At the Brian Schmitz story linked in the penultimate bullet there, you can read more on what the fan said, and what Matt Barnes said in response to him. Barnes has indeed become quite the enforcer for Howard and has taken out his frustration on his opponents in several games prior to tonight. This time, it was a heckler who drew Barnes' ire. Well, he and Stan Van Gundy, with whom Schmitz reports Barnes engaged in a heated discussion when Van Gundy pulled him for good in the third period.

But back to that poor late execution. With Howard out of the game, the Spurs had no incentive to intentionally foul, and thus the Magic were allowed to run their offense again. Here's how it played out.

  • Nelson misses a jumper
  • Pietrus turns the ball over via a charge in transition; Ginobili snuck in to draw the foul.
  • Carter turns the ball over by losing his handle in traffic.
  • Redick turns the ball over by making a lazy pass to the top of the key, which Spurs forward Richard Jefferson intercepts. Orlando regains possession immediately, however, as he dribbles the ball off his foot trying to regain control.
  • Carter makes an uncontested layup.
  • Lewis misses a three-pointer.
  • Carter misses a three-pointer.

That's a missed shot, followed by 3 pretty senseless turnovers, right in succession, which ended any hope Orlando had of stealing this one. Maybe the Magic's focus would have been sharper if they had more time off. I don't know. But to me, the game came down to this: any time you're facing the Spurs, at the AT&T Center, and Ginobili and Duncan combine for 66 points on 72.1% True Shooting, you're going to lose no matter how much rest you have. Hats off to San Antonio, which worked hard, played smart, and truly earned this win.