The Orlando Magic put forth a mostly strong effort as they opened the second year of their rebuilding project Tuesday, but fell to the Indiana Pacers in Indianapolis by a 97-87 final. Paul George scored an effortless 24 points, with six rebounds, five assists, and three blocked shots, for the home team, and he certainly had help in the frontcourt. Power forward David West and and center Roy Hibbert combined for 21 points, 21 rebounds, three assists, three steals, and 12 of the Pacers' 17 blocked shots.
Andrew Nicholson led the Magic with 18 points, all in the first half, on 8-of-10 shooting. In his first NBA game, Victor Oladipo scored 12 points, with three boards, two assists, a steal, and three turnovers.
Orlando trailed by just one point with six seconds to play in the third quarter, but the game unravelled in short order and Indiana cruised to victory.
The Magic got off to an inauspicious start, committing three turnovers and opening the game 0-of-5 from the floor as the Pacers built a 12-0 lead. Indiana fed off its crowd's energy, and the Magic couldn't match their intensity.
The script reversed in the second period, with Orlando tightening the screws defensively to force the hosts into poor shots and turnovers. The tandem of Nikola Vucevic and Jason Maxiell proved particularly adept at controlling the paint, walling it off from penetration.
And then Nicholson took over. The second-year power forward carried Orlando offensively in the first half. Spelling Maxiell, Nicholson scored 12 of his 18 first-half points in the second period, playing just seven minutes. Simple pick-and-pop or pick-and-roll action set up a majority of his looks, and the St. Bonaventure product even drained a pair of three-pointers in the period. The threat of a three-point shot, for which defenses must eventually account, has opened Nicholson's game to great effect.
Nicholson's hot second period masked the Magic's woes elsewhere on offense. The Pacers' interior defense clearly flustered Arron Afflalo, who unloaded several jumpers off the dribble just outside the paint rather than challenge the likes of Hibbert and West. He went 0-for-6 from the floor in the first half, and his teammate in the starting backcourt, Jameer Nelson, was himself 2-of-8. Indeed, Orlando would have been in a real bad way were it not for Nicholson bailing it out before intermission. At half, the Magic held a 44-40 lead.
The Pacers regained control in the second half, as one might have expected with Maxiell in Nicholson's place. The veteran big man is not someone for whom defenses must account, and even with Afflalo busting his slump by hitting three of his first five shots of the third quarter, the Magic couldn't keep their lead against a resurgent Indy team.
They did, however, hang around: the third quarter featured five lead changes and one tie, but ended with George sinking a pull-up three at the horn over the outstretched hand of Ronnie Price, staking the home team to a five-point 69-64 advantage. Notably, Nicholson didn't play at all in the third quarter and Orlando managed just 20 points.
The Pacers began to assert themselves in the fourth period, getting a boost from their bench, which had managed only nine points through the first three quarters. The Magic didn't make a basket until the 8:15 mark of the quarter--on an aggressive driving layup by Oladipo--but at that juncture, the Pacers had expanded their lead to 13 points.
Indiana continued its offensive onslaught as the fourth quarter continued, with back-to-back triples by George and Lance Stephenson extending its lead to 19 points with 6:20 to go. The Magic pulled Afflalo, Nelson, Nicholson, and Vucevic less than a minute later and played out the string with Maurice Harkless and four reserves, not including Oladipo. Harkless made the most of his garbage-time minutes, sinking a pair of three-pointers and making a layup in traffic, which helped to make the score look more respectable than it ought to have been.