It was safe to say everyone was in a state of shock. Orlando certainly seemed to be taken aback as Matt Barnes threw his jersey into the stands after being ejected.
Barnes was called for an offensive foul and was exuberantly walking over to the official to argue his case. It was an otherwise boring and ordinary game to that point. It seemed Orlando was waiting for its chance to pounce and pull away.
That all changed as Barnes walked over from beneath the basket when Hasheem Thabeet shoved Barnes. It is safe to say Matt Barnes lets hi emotions get the better of him. That is what makes him so good. It was no surprise to see Barnes shove Thabeet back and a shoving match broke out that saw Barnes ejected and Thabeet, O.J. Mayo and Vince Carter pick up technical fouls.
When the daze from the scuffle faded, Orlando had re-awoken. The Magic erased the Grizzlies' small lead in the third quarter and re-established control of the game, pulling away behind an attacking, aggressive offense and stifling defense for a 107-92 win.
Until the scuffle occurred, it really seemed like the whole team was sleepwalking. It was the type of game (as I have written in other recaps) where Orlando was leading by enough to keep the game uninteresting.
Memphis came out of the locker room with some fire, but Orlando did not wake up until Barnes and Thabeet got into their shoving match. When that happened, the Grizzlies did not have a chance.
As the Magic often do, it was a multi-pronged attack offensively that won the game. What mattered is that after the incident Orlando outscored Memphis 49-36 (that is over the final 18:54 of the game. After taking a deep breath, the Magic scored nearly 50 points in a quarter and a half. That is a pretty efficient offensive output.
Jameer Nelson was key throughout the spurt that led to a 32-23 fourth quarter edge. Nelson had 18 points, shooting 8-of-13 from the field, and five assists. He knifed his way through Memphis' defense and attacked the basket first, then followed it up with his dead-eye shooting.
Vince Carter did the same throughout the game, especially in the first half. Carter scored a team-high 26 points and added seven rebounds and six assists. Carter showed some youthfulness, topping a breakaway fast break with a 360 slam and then following it with a reverse alley oop (that did not count because it was after a foul).
When players like Nelson and Carter are able to get into the paint and shift the defense, it all comes down to whether the Magic will hit threes and how well the opponent can chase them off the line.
Tonight, Orlando was on target with its threes and moving the ball well. Orlando hit on 13 of its 29 3-point attempts. Rashard Lewis got things going on the first possession with a three and he was more dependable than he usually has been lately with 18 points on five 3-pointers (on seven attempts). Mickael Pietrus and JJ Redick were also very effective.
Orlando played pretty stifling defense throughout the night too. Memphis struggled to get to the rim and outside of Zach Randolph (24 points, 18 rebounds), did not have much they could do but hope the referees would call fouls.
Dwight Howard had a lot to do with that, as he always does. He was roaming in the paint and swatted five shots. Even though he was not playing well offensively and frustrated over some odd traveling calls, Howard provided his usual stalwart defense.
Unfortunately for the Magic, the Grizzlies were getting calls and getting to the line. Memphis shot 29 of 38 from the line. The officials also seemed to be calling Orlando a lot closer after the scuffle in the third quarter. For long stretches, it seemed the Grizzlies were parading to the free throw line and a Magic player throwing his hands up in frustration.
It happens. The Magic eventually fought through it.
The troubling part was this was the second straight game where Orlando lost some of its composure and failed to make the necessary adjustment (or took a while to do it). Howard struggled offensively handling Hasheem Thabeet's length and never really demanded the ball (especially after some strange turnovers). He never adjusted, finishing with eight points on 2-for-6 shooting.
Barnes obviously lost complete control, compounding a problem he had Friday night in San Antonio.
This game did not have a playoff intensity or atmosphere until that scuffle. But it was certainly played physically like a playoff game. The breakout that happened when Barnes and Thabeet crossed paths in the middle of the third quarter is something that will happen again in the postseason.
Orlando has to hope it can handle its emotions and not overreact after incidents like that. The team also needs to make sure it stays aggressive without forcing things like it did coming out the incident. Memphis turned a two-point deficit into a five-point lead.
The Magic snapped back into focus and ran away with a victory. T-minus two weeks until it all needs to come into focus.