Despite a shaky first half marred by poor shooting and sloppy execution, the Orlando Magic rallied to take control in the third and fourth periods, defeating the visiting L.A. Clippers by a 101-85 final score that belies how closely contested the game was. The Clippers led after the first and second periods and continued hanging in there until the 6:31 mark of the third period, when a slam dunk from Dwight Howard ignited a 13-0 Magic run, helping them take a 61-50 lead. Howard led the Magic with 22 points and 20 rebounds, his fifth 20/20 outing on the season, while Jameer Nelson contributed 17 points and four three-pointers.
The Magic are always happy to get a win, but ought to be particularly proud of how they defended tonight. They limited All-Star rookie Blake Griffin, averaging 22.9 points, to just 10 points on 4-of-12 shooting in one of the least effective outings of his career. Orlando forwards Ryan Anderson and Earl Clark did an admirable job keeping a body on Griffin, preventing him from getting free for lob dunks--though he did convert one over Anderson--and, in half-court situations, staying down on his up-fakes. The whole team covered the Clippers' pick-and-roll expertly, further reducing Griffin's involvement. As a result, the trio of Baron Davis, Randy Foye, and Ryan Gomes jacked 40 shots, with only Davis (8-of-16 from the field, 4-of-8 on threes, 25 points) converting at a reasonable rate.
|Green denotes a stat better than the team's season average;
red denotes a stat worse than the team's season average.
I don't mean to get ahead of myself here, but Orlando's performance in this game reminded me a bit of its 2008/09 NBA Finals team. With nobody apart from Howard (7-of-13 from the floor) converting consistently, Orlando had to defend like mad to stay in the game, buying its offense some time to come around. That's exactly what happened. A string of Clipper misses and turnovers fed that third-quarter run, with the Magic scoring on three fast breaks. Pushing the tempo in transition helped the Magic climb back into the game and ignited a previously silent Amway Center crowd. Even after Davis led a Clippers run to close the period, the Magic at least had a better idea of what they needed to do offensively to take command, which they did in the fourth to pull away.
Understand I'm not planning a parade route or anything; all the Magic did was beat a lottery team missing, in Chris Kaman and Eric Gordon, two quality offensive players, which in turn enabled them to load up on Griffin. But I think there's more to their win than simply Griffin missing shots. That the Clippers couldn't even get him the ball merits our attention, as does the fact they forced L.A. to play hot potato with the ball around the perimeter. I haven't surveyed the web for coach Stan Van Gundy's reaction just yet, but I imagine he'll praise his defense. He really ought to.
The blemish, apart from Davis' eruption, is Ike Diogu's 18 points in 22 minutes of L.A.'s bench. Orlando couldn't keep him off the offensive boards--he grabbed 4--and he's a good finisher around the rim area. Howard's foul trouble forced him to just hold his hands straight up when caught under the basket, instead of leaping for blocks. Howard's backup, Malik Allen, no longer leaps at all, which further helped Diogu's great night.
Overall, you at least have to come away impressed with Orlando's effort. Despite a poor shooting night, for example, Hedo Turkoglu hustled down 8 rebounds and dished 7 assists tonight. Gilbert Arenas scored and got fouled on a backdoor cut off a Turkoglu feed, showing some of his off-the-ball skill the Magic will need from him. Howard played with a scratched eye that sometimes forces players to sit out. Jason Richardson and J.J. Redick pushed the ball in transition. As a team, the Magic grabbed 38.6 percent of their own misses and made multiple second efforts to score. These are all positive signs. One hopes they indicate Orlando's turned the corner, so to speak, and aren't simply an anomaly.