The Orlando Magic opened their first-round playoff series against the Indiana Pacers in dramatic fashion on Saturday, closing the game with an 11-0 run to upset Indiana, 81-77, on its home floor. Jameer Nelson and Jason Richardson scored 17 points apiece for the visiting Magic, while Glen Davis put up 16 points and 13 rebounds. Richardson gave the Magic the lead for good with just over one minute remaining in the game with a three-pointer from the right wing, his fifth of the game and one of the most critical baskets of his career.
The Pacers, making just their second playoff appearance with their current core, struggled to execute down the stretch. This play sort of says it all on that point: trailing by three with 10.3 seconds remaining, former All-Star forward Danny Granger took an inbounds pass in the middle of the floor with Davis defending... and got called for traveling as he tried to drive to his left around the Orlando center. Chris Duhon danced on the sidelines, Matt Moore got to say "I told you so" (he sent this tweet before Indiana broke the huddle) and the Magic closed the game with J.J. Redick splitting a pair of free throws to provide the final margin.
Nelson's strong play proved crucial in pulling the upset. The eight-year veteran did need 15 shots to score his 17 points, yes, but his dribble-penetration gave Indiana fits throughout the evening. To the surprise of some NBA observers, myself included, Nelson had no trouble getting into the paint against long-armed Pacers point guard George Hill, and he exploited Darren Collison's poor defense when Collison subbed in for Hill. On the night, Nelson dished nine assists, and made several other great passes to open teammates who simply missed shots. His ability to orchestrate Orlando's offense out of the pick-and-roll kept the Pacers on their heels for much of the night.
|Green denotes a stat better than the team's regular-season average;
red denotes a stat worse than the team's regular-season average.
But all this talk of the offense sort of ignores how anemic it was for long stretches, through no real fault of Nelson's. Orlando's was a victory taken on the defensive end, something in which the Magic can take great pride, as they've struggled defensively with Dwight Howard out of the lineup. Though they lost track of David West on a few occasions in his pick-and-pop action with Collison and Hill, the Magic defended Indy expertly overall, as West was the only Pacers player to sink more than half of his shots. Despite his size advantage on the Magic, 7-foot-2 center Roy Hibbert shot just 3-of-11, while Granger missed 13 of his 20 shots en route to a 17-point outing.
The Magic held their own on the interior; though the Pacers scored 36 points in the paint, they shot just 18-of-45 despite Orlando's lack of size. If that trend continues throughout the series, Orlando stands an excellent chance of pulling the upset.
Earl Clark played a huge role in keeping the Magic's defensive intensity up; he changed the tenor of the game upon his arrival with 2:24 to play in the first period. He blocked four shots over the next four minutes of game time, including a chase-down block of a Collison layup try. The third-year forward finished with six points, nine rebounds, and those four blocks, and although he struggled with shot-selection and two turnovers, he's demonstrated that he can be an impact player for Orlando at the defensive end.
The Pacers will find ways to game-plan for the Magic's varied pick-and-roll attack, and Indiana isn't likely to shoot 59.1 percent from the foul line again in this series, so the Magic certainly have their work cut out for them. They must find ways to keep the offense from stalling when Nelson exits, for example, and it's imperative that they involve Ryan Anderson (five points on 2-of-7 shooting in 36 minutes) more. The chess match between coaches Frank Vogel and Stan Van Gundy certainly bears watching going forward.
Game Two is set for Monday evening in Indianapolis, with a 7:30 PM tipoff on NBA TV nationally and Fox Sports Florida in Orlando.