Ball movement was how the lead was built without doubt. The Magic had 25 assists 41 field goals and it was at 24 assists on 36 field goals at one point. Just like the lead had been at 23 points at one point. The end though was going to be all about the determination to hold onto a lead.
The end was going to be all about Hedo Turkoglu.
Turkoglu scored five unanswered points to push a late three-point Magic lead to eight. He drove into the paint for an easy layup as the defense sagged toward Howard to cover him. Then Turkoglu pulled up for a 3-pointer after getting free on a pick and roll with Howard. They were not the prettiest shots. But this was not the prettiest game.
Portland came very close to stealing this one, almost literally. A last ditch effort to get back into the game was almost capped off when Wes Matthews ripped the ball right out of Jameer Nelson's hands to bring the deficit back to three late in the game. Nelson's struggles while Portland put the 6-foot-9 Nicolas Batum on him made it a shaky ending to what was a strong offensive performance.
J.J. Redick was able to make his free throws to seal a 107-104 win at the Rose Garden in Portland, the first home loss of the season for the Trail Blazers.
The first three quarters were a thing of beauty offensively. The Magic were surgical with their drives and their passing out to the 3-point line. It started with Jamer Nelson, who despite his first mention in this post had one of his better games of the season, driving to the lane and cutting to the basket. The 25 assists are just a solid number.
The ball was moving in and out and finding open shooters with relative easy. Orlando shot 16 for 27 from beyond the arc and when that happens this team is just very difficult to beat. Nelson scored 16 points, making his first seven shots. J.J. Redick came off the bench to score 17 points. Hedo Turkoglu and Ryan Anderson each had 16 points. Dwight Howard added 13 points and grabbed 13 rebounds to go with four assists.
A solid offensive output all around.
There were just two moments that allowed Portland to hang around and cut back into the lead. The end of both halfs were extremely weak finishes.
Portland got into the early hole and were fighting out the entire time. The Trail Blazers never led in the game. But at the end of both halfs -- and pretty much whenever Jamal Crawford was in -- the Blazers looked like the better team. Crawford was a matchup nightmare for the Magic as usual. He scored 24 points off the bench on 10-for-17 shooting. He sparked the offense and energized Portland all around.
The Magic did not help themselves maintain their lead. There were some moments when the ball got stuck and the team did not move the ball as it was when it built the lead. But main culprit for the Magic nearly blowing a 23-point lead is 19 turnovers.
The Magic shot 58.6 percent from the floor and the Trail Blazers shot 47.7 percent and took 86 shots to the Magic's 70. Even though Orlando shot the lights out, the defense did not help and the turnovers enabled Portland to keep plugging away. That sloppiness is something Stan Van Gundy lamented after the game.
As the turnovers piled up, the team's ball movement stopped (or was forced, thus the turnovers) and the lead shrunk. Orlando sometimes tries to shoot itself out of a slump, but going into Dwight Howard was not working perfectly. Howard got his numbers, but left a lot of points on the board. He missed 9 of his 12 free throw attempts. That is simply unacceptable from the Magic's star player.
The turnovers only highlighted the overall problem with the defense. As each possession became more and more scarce and grew in importance, the Magic were sloppy while the Trail Blazers attacked.
It seemed no matter what Orlando did to combat it, Crawford had the answer as the ball handler. Aldridge had 23 points and eight rebounds on the night, but none of his shots were as big as the ones he hit in a stretch of the fourth quarter when the Trail Blazers made it a very serious game.
Eventually the Magic had to send J.J. Redick from the weak side to cover the roll man and leave the rest of the defense to scramble. Nicolas Batum or Wes Matthews or Raymond Felton are much safer 3-point shooting options for a defense than Crawford or Aldridge shooting that 18-footer from the elbow.
The Magic's weakness in the pick and roll was really exposed at the end of this game and is something the team will have to work on.
Orlando though got the win. And they all count the same no matter how you get them. You can call it a marquee win over a top team -- and it was in a tough environment -- but the important this is the Magic continue to play consistently and spin forward the positives to the next effort.