If you are looking for a symbol of how bad things got and how the Magic eked one past the Bobcats on Tuesday night, look no further than Ryan Anderson.
Just a day after he hit seven 3-pointers and scored a career-high 30 points, Anderson could not get a single shot to fall. Open shots, rushed shots, drives to the basket. Nothing would go in for the fourth-year sharpshooter. Anderson was an uncharacteristically cold 4 for 13 from the floor and 2 for 9 from beyond the arc. But none of his makes were more important than a late 3-pointer off some beautiful ball movement.
It was the one brief moment of clarity offensively in this game for Anderson and, really, for the entire team. Anderson drained a corner three that gave the Magic a five-point lead. The lead never got smaller than that.
In an ugly offensive game, it took that one offensive burst to help the Magic pull away. Jameer Nelson and Hedo Turkoglu took over the remainder of the fourth quarter as the Magic closed the game by outscoring the Bobcats 13-8 and 9-3 from the 1:32 mark to the 0:30 mark.
As Stan Van Gundy would say, each one counts the same no matter how you get it. This will not be the most pristine win the Magic will have this season. But it counts as a 96-89 victory over the Bobcats at Amway Center on Tuesday.
There was a lot of grit and resiliency in this win as Orlando has displayed throughout its wins this season. Glen Davis was diving on the floor recklessly, especially in the fourth quarter. His team needed a shot in the arm and Davis provided some of that spark with his energetic play. His six points and three rebounds do not come anywhere near his impact on the game.
Von Wafer also came in and provided a huge lift off the bench with 13 points on 5-for-8 shooting, including a big 3-pointer to give the Magic a boost in the fourth quarter.
Points were extremely difficult to come by for most of this game even with some questionable defense. The Magic, with Dwight Howard picking up two fouls early in the first quarter, settled for jumpers most of the first half. It was no surprise that the Bobcats were able to attack the basket and have some solid possessions. But they were not doing a whole lot to worry the Magic either. Their lead was large enough to be in control, but not large enough to pull away. Orlando erased a seven-point first-quarter deficit and took a lead in the second quarter before giving way to end the half.
Gerald Henderson had most of his 22 points in the first half. Bismack Biyombo provided a big defensive and, even, offensive lift with 11 points and 10 rebounds. A very nice effort for the raw, rookie center.
This game came down though to what Orlando's stars could do.
Dwight Howard got settled down in the second half with foul trouble out of the way, scored 25 points and grabbed 17 rebounds. He was a +19 for the game and his impact was pretty clear to see. The Bobcats opted to single cover him at the beginning of the game and brought doubles late after he had done his damage.
That freed up Hedo Turkoglu on the perimeter to do what he does in the fourth quarter. And it freed up Jameer Nelson to run the high pick and roll with Dwight Howard and attack the basket much stronger. Turkoglu had 15 points and Nelson finished with 17 points and four assists.
The Bobcats really had no chance so long as the Magic were playing with effort and focus on the defensive end. That became apparently clear in the second half and particularly the fourth quarter. Dante Marchitelli reported on the FSFlorida broadcast that Stan Van Gundy implored his team in the quarter break before the fourth quarter to show harder and play with more effort and energy defensively.
In fact, pretty much everything the coaches and players said immediately after the game was about how the defense still needed to improve.
The difference was noticeable. Orlando was showing harder and cutting off dribble penetration. The team was rotating much quicker and crisper and were getting stops (including a massive two-handed block by Howard at the rim). Charlotte scored only 39 points in the second half and 22 points in the fourth quarter, with a few of those points coming in garbage time.
The Magic are still looking for a little bit of consistency in energy and on defense. The thing this game showed was how important it is to play with strong effort and energy from the beginning of games to put teams like this away.
Still, it is a win. Another gutty win on a night where things were not going perfect. Now, it is all about putting it together for 48 minutes on a nightly basis. There is another chance to do it tomorrow.