The Orlando Magic fought back from a deficit which reached 18 points on Wednesday night, but were unable to complete the comeback as they fell, 96-94, to the Chicago Bulls. Orlando had a chance to tie the score at 94 as it had the ball with 25.2 seconds to play, but Jameer Nelson missed two shots on the possession.
The Magic had the floor spread beautifully for Nelson as he drove to his right, looking for a layup. Chicago power forward Taj Gibson read the play and rejected the layup out of bounds with 11.3 seconds on the game clock. Magic coach Jacque Vaughn called timeout to draw up another play. The Bulls took away Orlando's first option on the play, leaving Nelson to improvise and ultimately miss a 12-footer off the glass. Chicago rebounded that shot to effectively end the game. Free throws by Luol Deng and a Nelson layup as time expired provided the final scoring margin.
Following the game, Vaughn explained the failed play which would have tied the score.
"The shot was for J.J. [Redick] coming off the corner," Vaughn said. The first-year coach credited Bulls swingman Jimmy Butler, a second-year forward who logged just 7:21 of playing time on Wednesday, for breaking up the play: "Jimmy Butler made a great play of coming off of Jameer and getting in J.J.'s vision." Redick elevated as though to fire a three-pointer, but dished to Nelson on the right wing, outside the three-point line, as Butler closed out on him.
Redick himself said Nelson's role in the play was to occupy the corner of the Bulls' zone defense, but that Butler gummed everything up. "He left for a second," Redick said of Butler, "and had he been another tenth of a second late, we would have had a clean look.
"We didn't get a good shot off, but it was no fault of Jameer's. He played an outstanding game."
Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau credited Kirk Hinrich for his defense of Nelson on the final sequence. "If you give him any air space right now, he's knocking that three in," Thibodeau said. "You've got to have the mental toughness to stay into him." Hinrich stayed in front of Nelson as the veteran point guard attempted to create a game-tying shot, and did not bite on the pump-fake Nelson tried.
Orlando fueled its comeback with defense as it limited the Bulls to 14 points on 5-of-17 shooting in the final period. Redick pointed out that Vaughn told his team to switch every screen in the fourth period, which adjustment helped the Magic close the gap.
"We were late on rotations, out of our normal stuff," Redick said. "Jacque made the move to just switch stuff. I thought for the most part we handled the mismatches well. Anytime you switch, there're gonna be mismatches. So that's a credit to us for just fighting, whether it was a big on a small or a small on a big. We battled [for] those last 12-to-15 minutes."
Vaughn, too, was pleased with his team's resolve. "This is a great experience for us," he said. "The best part about tonight was that there was a stretch in the game where Chicago could've broke our spirits, and we stayed together."
Orlando did indeed stick together, but it still dropped its seventh straight game.