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Heat 108, Magic 96: Miami crushes Orlando in the paint

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The Magic fall in their season opener thanks to a disastrous third quarter

NBA: Miami Heat at Orlando Magic Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

For a while, there were signs of important growth from Orlando as this very new team adapts to its evolving roster and its latest head coach. The Magic were prolific at the line (22-28 on the night), effective on the offensive glass (14 offensive boards), and kept their turnovers low (11 TOs). Still, it was all undone in the third quarter when Miami’s relentless driving attack broke the Magic, and Orlando couldn’t recover in time, falling 108-96. Miami scored a ridiculous 74 points in the paint thanks to Orlando’s failure to cover the Heat on passes around the rim and the defensive glass. Evan Fournier led all scorers with 20 points, and Nikola Vucevic had 17 to go with 14 rebounds. Hassan Whiteside led the heat with 18 points, 14 rebounds, and 4 blocks. Orlando played without Bismack Biyombo, who served his 1-game suspension.

The first quarter was solid for Orlando, who scored 27 points despite shooting just 36% from the field. They were able to boost their production from the line, getting 10 attempts from the free throw stripe, hitting 7. Fournier took 3 of those attempts, and led all scorers with 7 early. Orlando was active on the offensive glass as well, corralling a massive 8 offensive rebounds, including 4 from Vucevic. Their lead would have been greater had they not given up 7 offensive boards to the Heat, but beyond their defensive rebounding struggles, the Magic were fairly solid on the defensive end, sticking to their guys and allowing few open shots, while also avoiding fouls. Orlando led 27-23 after one quarter.

The star of the game for the first half was Elfrid Payton, whose aggressive forays into the paint earned him a consistent stream of foul calls. Perhaps more remarkable than the 8 first-half free throw attempts was that he made all of them on the way to 12 points, leading all scorers. Of greater concern was the defense, which faltered in the second quarter. Serge Ibaka looked uncomfortable all game, not always in the right position to help on drives, and with virtually non-existent rim protection. The great majority of Miami’s points came in the paint throughout the first half, making Biyombo’s absense that much more obvious. Orlando maintained a small lead at halftime, 53-50.

What was a close game was blown wide open in the third, as Orlando collapsed on both ends. The offense, fueled initially by those 18 first half free throws, was now unable to generate good looks from the field. When they did get open shots, most of the time they failed to fall for the Magic in the third. Payton lost much of the aggression he fought with in the first half, often getting stuffed around the rim when he did attempt to drive. More concerning was the defense, which only got worse in the third and into the fourth. While the Magic were generally able to stick to their assignments or switch effectively in the first half, the Heat found open men around the hoop time and again, whether it was on dump-off passes or alley-oops. Miami crushed the Magic in the third, leading 80-69.

Orlando was unable to regain their offensive composure until halfway through the fourth quarter, but by then it was too late, and at that point it was all they could do to keep the score somewhat respectable. Fournier salvaged his scoring night with 10 points in the fourth, but every big basket from the Magic was met by another rim-run from Miami. Orlando also shot their fewest free throws of any quarter in the fourth, going just 3-4 from the line.