The Magic maybe had the Heat right where they wanted them. They could not get out on the fast break, they could not get the easy run out that usually supply Miami with the points to pull away from Orlando. The Magic were turning the ball over, but many of them were dead-ball turnovers. And so the game bogged down.
Orlando was committed to getting back on the break. And the offense, after struggling early, settled down and got the ball moving side to side.
Those pesky turnovers reared their head in the fourth quarter. They did not quite lead to the runouts that give Stan Van Gundy nightmares every time the Magic go up against the Heat, but they did give the Heat the extra possessions they needed to blow the game open.
Miami led by four points entering the fourth quarter. And Orlando seemed to start turning the ball over immediately off the first possession of the fourth quarter. The Magic had seven turnovers in the first six minutes of the fourth quarter -- including three in the first three possessions of the quarter. Orlando did not lose any ground, but the momentum of the game had changed.
Dwyane Wade took over.
Wade scored 14 of his 31 points in the fourth quarter, ding it in a variety of ways -- taking floaters and jumpers from the baseline and absolutely wasting the Magic defense in the way that superstars do.
Orlando was clearly a little rattled by all the turnovers early in the quarter and even the simplest passes seemed to be a struggle for several of Orlando's ball handlers. The Magic could not get good looks and the Heat did a good job crowding and rushing Dwight Howard. Howard missed two key shots that could have stopped the bleeding and could not convert from the free throw line.
In this low-scoring of a game, that little burst of offense from Wade and the Heat was enough to slowly build a double-digit lead. The Magic could not get free against the swarming Heat defense and fell 91-81 at American Airlines Arena on Sunday.
Miami extended its home win streak to 13 games and proved to be very difficult to handle when push came to shove. This was very much a game that would come down purely to late-game execution, getting a good shot and making them.
That was what Wade was doing in the final moments of this game.
The Magic had their moments of great execution -- really good execution. But late in the game, they could not get the ball to Dwight Howard, could not get a good shot and could not get the ball in the basket.
Orlando had just 34 points in the second half and shot 39.5 percent for the game. For the most part, the team did not settle for 3-pointers (taking just 21 in the game, making nine) and did a really good job moving the ball around the perimeter and into the paint. But the fourth quarter, especially the late stages of the quarter, was a different animal. Miami more aggressively trapped ball handlers coming off the pick and roll in the corners and ramped up the pressure.
The Magic were least successful in this game when the ball handler held onto the ball waiting for something to happen. You have to make the Heat defense react, not react to the Heat's defense. Most of the night, particularly in the second quarter when the Magic came back from a 13-point first-quarter deficit, this is precisely what the Magic did.
Still, when push came to shove, Orlando could not come up with the baskets.
Dwight Howard scored only 18 points and grabbed only 11 rebounds. He shot 7 for 17 from the floor and 4 for 10 from the line, as the Heat played him physically and tried to crowd him out with two defenders shading him before the entry to the post. In the fourth quarter, Orlando went scoreless for four minutes and saw a four-point deficit expand to 11.
That was the deciding stretch. The Magic were 0 for 5 and 0 for 2 from the line. Howard missed two shots and two free throws in this stretch. It was just the wrong time to go cold with Wade scoring so frequently. That is how these games get decided.
The tenor though late was generally a positive one from Stan Van Gundy. He noted the 20 turnovers Orlando committed overall, but was generally happy with the team's defensive effort.
For sure, the Magic played the best defense against the Heat that they had all season. Miami did not get very many of those run outs and could not control the pace of the game. When Orlando did miss a shot or did turn the ball over in a live-ball situation, the team was getting back and stopping LeBron James or Dwyane Wade from getting out into the open floor.
Glen Davis and, especially, Quentin Richardson were really key in this role. Richardson slowed down James from making the outlet pass a few times and tipped his fair share of passes to slow Miami down. That seemed to be half the battle for any defense in playing Miami.
Richardson turned in one of his better games in a Magic uniform with 15 points on 5-for-7 shooting from beyond the arc. His impact was not seen in the box score.
Orlando was clearly just a bit short in this one though. There was nothing the Magic could do but look at themselves for failing to protect the ball down the stretch (and really throughout the game) and failing to execute offensively. Those are not easy things to do against an elite defensive team.
The Magic though probably showed that they can still play some inspired defense against an elite offensive team too. A win would have been incredibly nice. But, there is no shame at losing to Miami.
What is important is that Orlando should know that it can be at anybody if it takes care of its own business. The Magic have another chance to prove that tomorrow night against the Bulls.