Orlando outpaces Indiana in crunch time
Rashard Lewis was having the kind of night you could forget. Lewis was in foul trouble and could not find his shot, finishing four for 10, and was slow defensively. But when Orlando needed a shot to spark a late-game rally, you can always bet Lewis would be there.
Lewis' corner three was followed by JJ Redick nailing one of his own as the Magic finished on a 12-2 kick to get a hard-earned and physical 106-98 win. Vince Carter (28 points) and Dwight Howard (21 points, 23 rebounds) were the stars and did everything in their power to will the Magic to a victory after a very slow start.
Indiana looked like it would leave Orlando in its wake after getting out to an early double-digit lead and extending it to 36-19 in the second quarter. The Magic were not attacking the basket, were missing open jumpers and (worse) were slow defensively.
The Pacers made some contested shots -- as they would for most of the night -- but the Magic were not forcing them to do anything outside their comfort zone. Carter was the only one really playing well as he had 15 points after the first quarter.
The second unit then did more than anyone could ask them, getting Orlando back into the game and more than within shouting distance in the second quarter. JJ Redick particularly played well throughout the game especially on defense.
Every time I see Redick play, it amazes me to see the transformation that has occurred in him. He is truly one of the best defenders on the team and always gives a consistent and strong effort. That is certainly not something anyone could say after he came out of Duke. Redick posted 13 points and five assists.
Anthony Johnson also provided a lift off the bench. Dad provided a much different look than Jason Williams could provide and almost bullied his way past the diminutive and speedy TJ Ford. Even though Ford used his quickness early in the game to get past Johnson, once the defense tightened up in the fourth quarter, Johnson's physicality really bothered Ford. Johnson also had 13 points and added seven assists.
It was no surprise to see Johnson and Redick playing in crunch time. The final five minutes were probably some of the best defense the team has played in quite a while. Stan Van Gundy was generally unhappy with the effort defensively the entire game, but was very pleased the team held the Pacers to 17 points in the final quarter.
Unlike the rest of the game, Orlando was very quick on its rotations and contested every shot in this time period. Howard had his blocked shots and the Magic even forced some turnovers and tipped more than a few passes.
Offensively in the end, it was all about Carter. Carter got to the rim and got to the line throughout the final five minutes. He created his own shots and scoring opportunities, but by the final two minutes he was able to open things up on the perimeter for Lewis, Redick and the 3-point shooters.
This was not a great night for the Magic from beyond the arc (9 for 29), but it was a great night from the line (25 for 35). Even Howard had a solid night at the line as he went 13 for 22 and his strong free throw shooting set up the fourth quarter run and kept the Magic in the game.
And that brings up the final point to be taken from this game. Midway through the third quarter, Troy Murphy grabbed Howard around the shoulders and neck and fouled him hard, prompting a reactionary push to the air in Murphy's direction from Howard. That earned him a technical foul and after a lot of discussion a technical for Murphy.
Stan Van Gundy and several teammates addressed the situation after the game and all agreed Howard deserves more respect from the referees and that the play should have been called a flagrant foul against Murphy. It was nice to see the team rally around their big man and support his "cause" for more calls from the referees.
The media is attaching themselves to this issue a little too much (maybe), but it is worth arguing. Howard was absolutely pounded tonight as Indiana's strategy was clearly to foul him and make him earn his keep at the line. That was a particularly hard foul and one that probably should have been flagrant.
But complaining about it in the media is not going to change much. The team has been sending complaints like this to the league for years now, and so far it appears it is falling on deaf ears. All they can do is keep asking the league to review the way they officiate Howard. It is clear he operates under different officiating rules than the rest of the league's stars.
In the end, Howard made his free throws and Orlando got gritty in the fourth quarter and won the game. That's all that will be remembered about the incident.