It takes a lot of work to get a game into overtime against a quality opponent. It takes a lot more to win it.
The Magic know this well. This is a team full of veterans. They have seen the ups and downs that come with close games like this. Inevitably they come to who can execute and make plays down the stretch.
Orlando was down seven points late in the fourth quarter and got some big plays and drives from Jameer Nelson to set up J.J. Redick, Jason Richardson and Ryan Anderson down the stretch. Nelson got a decent look at a fall away over DeAndre Jordan that failed to fall as regulation ended.
Overtime would again be about execution.
Orlando was lucky to get to overtime. Nelson ran a pick and roll and had to shuttle the ball to Richardson as Chris Paul guarded him tightly. The ball squirted at Richardson's legs and he fumbled it, allowing Caron Butler and Paul to pounce. They knocked the ball away from Richardson and forced a hustling Nelson to foul Blake Griffin and prevent a two-point play that would have given the Clippers a one-point lead. Griffin hit just one of the two free throws and Orlando remained tied.
Those kinds of plays seemed to occur again in the overtime.
Orlando raced out to a four-point lead in overtime with J.J. Redick draining a transition 3-pointer. Then things slowly began to unravel. Chris Paul found driving lanes and took over the game. He found Caron Butler for a three and then drained a tough jumper over Dwight Howard to give the Clippers the lead. Then, up by only a single point. the Magic got two stops. But the first miss led to J.J. Redick trying to bat the ball to a teammate that went to Los Angeles hands. The second play brought Howard out to the perimeter to challenge Paul.
Orlando could not come up with the rebound.
In all, the Magic committed two turnovers in the overtime and another two turnovers in the final minute of regulation.
Nothing stung more probably than a perfect inbounds play getting Jason Richardson wide open for three to tie the game. And then seeing the ball rim out with 12 seconds left. Ryan Anderson failed on two tip ins and time was out for the Magic. Hard fought though the game might have been, Orlando came up short 107-102 in overtime at Amway Center on Monday.
The difference in the game were those plays down the stretch. This is not to pile on Jameer Nelson, but when compared to what Chris Paul did throughout the game, and especially in "winning time" it is tough to think Nelson won. Paul scored 29 points and dished out eight assists in the game and he just seemed to come up with big play after big play. And this was after Chauncey Billups, who is always a thorn in Orlando's side and scored 18 points, left the game with a reported Achilles injury.
Nothing the Magic could do defensively seemed capable of slowing Paul and the Clippers down in the fourth quarter. Stan Van Gundy took a lot of the blame for failing to adjust and leaving a Magic team that worked extremely hard on the short end of this one.
When Orlando switched to a zone, Billups and Butler shot the team out of it. When the Magic went man, Paul does what he does -- he absolutely picked it apart, splitting double teams deftly.
Nelson should not be completely ashamed of breaking down at the hands of Paul late in the game. Until those late gaffes and turnovers, Nelson played his best game of the season. At points in that fourth quarter, as the Magic needed a spark to erase a seven-point deficit, he looked like the 2009 version of himself. Nelson scored 15 points and dished out 12 assists.
He was fast and aggressive off the pick and roll, going into the lane looking to score and creating passing lanes and outlets for shooter. The Magic's offense was working brilliantly in the first and fourth quarters with Nelson playing this way.
The problem, of course, was that he could not sustain it. And, with Hedo Turkoglu sleepwalking the entire game and Jason Richardson having his typically strong start and fading finish, the Magic's offense sputtered for a good portion of the game.
Orlando scored only 32 points in the middle two quarters, seeing a 15-point first quarter lead evaporate completely by the second half. The Magic made enough shots to hold off the Clippers until then.
And really, Dwight Howard was the only thing buoying the team. He scored 33 points and grabbed 14 rebounds. He scored 10 of Orlando's 15 points in the third quarter and was the only thing giving the Magic a fighting chance.
Of course, Howard never could get going again as the always crafty and physical Reggie Evans kept him at bay. Howard had only two points in the fourth quarter, all but disappearing from the offense as Nelson drove into the paint and did the inside-out damage Howard usually does.
It may not have been in the flow of the offense, but it was another failure of execution, if you will at the end. Howard couldn't stabilize the team on offense or defense -- he was right to go out on Paul to contest the shot, but his team needed a rebound in a big moment and he was covering up for his teammates -- late in games.
It is hard to place complete blame on anyone in a close game like this. There were plays here and there that certainly could have and would have changed things. The Magic just didn't make the plays when they needed to.
Of course, the real tragedy is those middle two quarters when things stagnated so bad and the Magic lost their lead. What was the hallmark of the 2009 and 2010 teams was its ability to put teams away and bury them. That was not there tonight. Orlando fought back hard though, and that counts for something.
But so does the failure to execute and the failure to win in the end.