The Magic got off to a slow start but a fast finish Tuesday against the Pistons. Stan Van Gundy was very dissatisfied with the effort the team put forward early in the first quarter, but he could hardly be upset with how his team finished. Rack this one up as another lesson without losing.
Orlando went on a 7-0 run over the last 3:13 (and 15-6 over the final five-plus minutes) to finally take control of the game and cruise to a 90-79 win at Amway Center on Tuesday. After Tayshaun Prince brought the Pistons within four points, Jameer Nelson got to work. He penetrated to open a gap for Rashard Lewis and found him for a driving layup. He then found Lewis for a 3-pointer and hit a fall-away jumper of his own to seal the game.
The Magic's smothering defense shut out the Pistons over the final stretch.
Defense is the Thing
As bad as Orlando's first quarter was -- with Detroit outscoring Orlando 23-18 and holding a 20-8 lead at one point -- the other three quarters were about as statistically brilliant defensively as you can get. The game was played at an incredibly slow pace of 83 possessions, putting each point at an already higher premium. But Detroit put in only a 95.2 offensive efficiency and 45.3 percent effective field goal percentage.
The raw numbers do not make the Pistons look any better. They shot only 42.7 percent from the floor and four for 16 from beyond the arc. Rodney Stuckey, who gave Jameer Nelson fits in the Playoffs a few years ago, scored 14 points on 4-for-11 shooting.
More impressively, Detroit scored only 34 points in the second half after posting 46 in the first half. Orlando's second-half defense was absolutely stifling.
Dwight Howard did not have a good offensive game by any stretch of the imagination -- nine points on four for eight and oddly only two free throw attempts -- but Van Gundy praised him for sticking with it defensively and continuing to be a force on that end. He finished the night with 14 rebounds, two blocks and three steals. He posted a 21.8 total rebound percentage, a pretty good rate for a game full of rebounds.
After a few games where the offense seemed to be working non-stop, it was good to see this team is still capable of a gritty, defensive performance. Of course it would also be nice to see a full 48-minute effort. But that is still a work in progress.
Vince Carter is Back
Vince Carter made his return after injuring his knee in Monday's loss to San Antonio. Carter scored 13 points and shot six for 14. It took a while for VC to find his legs after missing a week, but he found his rhythm right when the team needed him.
He scored nine points in the third quarter to help Orlando take the lead and control of the game. Criticize Carter all you want, but it is clear he still have some value. He made his presence known even though he was not completely back to game speed -- that will surely come back very quickly.
JJ Redick also played well with 10 points and had a couple big shots in the fourth quarter as the Magic started to run away and close the game out. But for a first game back from injury, Carter put in a pretty solid performance. Especially in a game where offense came at a premium -- and for the record Orlando did not perform so horribly offensively with a 53.4 percent eFG% and 108.4 offensive rating.
Anyone Noticing Jameer Nelson?
Looking for a point guard to start in the All Star Game. Tired of voting for Rajon Rondo and Derrick Rose? Look no further than Jameer Nelson.
Nelson has turned in some astounding games over the last few weeks and is playing at an All Star level. I think it is safe to say, the Magic's offense goes as well as Nelson goes. The players talk about it all the time, they need Nelson to be aggressive to be successful.
In the fourth quarter run, Nelson became aggressive and that was the big difference. He was penetrating not only looking to score, but looking to pass. He had a spin move that led to a pass to Redick for a critical 3-pointer. He came across a screen wide open and simply pulled up for a three.
His ability to score makes him dangerous. His newfound ability to distribute is even more promising.
Nelson turned in a pretty complete game with nine points, nine assists and six rebounds. The Magic are a much better team when Nelson is able to do these things.