Utah flips the road trip script
Tell me if you have heard this one. Orlando races out to a double-digit and seemingly comfortable lead in the first quarter only to see its opponent race back into the game. Of course, the Magic find a way to pull it out in the end with their stellar defense and inside-out play.
Golden State and Los Angeles (Clippers) do not have Deron Williams though. And after a night when the Jazz scored only six points in the fourth quarter against the Lakers, Williams made sure there was plenty of offense for his team to keep the Magic from pulling away for good.
Utah scored 68 points in the second and third quarters, erasing an early 18-point Orlando lead, and Williams dominated the game with 32 points and 15 assists to lead Utah to a 120-111 victory at EnergySolutions Arena in Salt Lake City. The loss snapped Orlando's franchise-high (in one season) eight-game road winning streak.
The Magic, after building its big lead, trailed by as much as 16 points in the final quarter. A quick flurry of shots from Vince Carter, who scored a season-high 34 points albeit on 9-of-23 shooting, Matt Barnes and JJ Redick got Orlando back within eight before C.J. Miles scored five points off hustle plays by Paul Milsap and Carlos Boozer to seal the game.
And that is really where the Jazz won the game -- the intangible hustle stats. With the Magic trailing by eight and about a minute to play, Milsap fumbled the ball and rescued it from going out of bounds but threw it toward mid court. Redick and Barnes fumbled the ball at the mid-court line and looked free for an easy layup. But Boozer dove for the ball and knocked it off Barnes to give the Jazz possession and about four seconds on the shot clock. Williams got the ball and found Miles for a dagger of a 3-pointer that all but sealed the game.
The dominance from an energy standpoint really started at the beginning of the game. Utah had 13 offensive rebounds and (by my count) about five in the first two and a half minutes. Not only that, Utah went to the line 46 times and hit 30 free throws. After shooting nine of 21 in the first half, the free throw line really became the Jazz's ally as the Magic looked a little lackadaisical on their defensive rotations and generally uninterested in playing defense.
Really the first quarter was the lone bright spot in the entire game. The ball was moving and the team looked energized and ready to finally break through with the dominating road victory they were on the precipice of having throughout this road trip. The offensive rebounds were the only concerning spot. Ryan Anderson had a stretch first quarter when he had 14 points in about five minutes. It does not get much better offensively for the Magic than that.
But slowly the wheels started spinning off. A 30-point second quarter followed by Williams' mastery of the pick and roll and dissection of Orlando's defense in the third quarter completely eradicated Orlando's lead and made it a fight Orlando was not willing to get into.
Dwight Howard (18 points, 10 rebounds) progressively got fewer and fewer touches as the game went on and the ball movement completely stopped as the Magic slowly lost its lead. Carter attacked the basket more than anyone, but there were more than a few possessions where only one player touched the ball.
Orlando tried a variety of lineups to stop Williams and re-energize the defense. Rashard Lewis, who could never find his rhythm after picking up two very early fouls and apparently did not want to go back in during the second quarter because of how well Anderson was playing according to Stan Van Gundy, played some at the three. Vince Carter saw crunch time minutes at the point as Williams had his way with Jason Williams and Anthony Johnson. It worked in short bursts but ultimately was not enough.
This is the kind of game you would expect on the last night of a road trip. But Orlando has one more and the team will be unable to follow the script that lost them this game and nearly cost them the first two games of this trip.