The Magic cannot blame cold shooting this time. They hit on 48.4 percent of their shots, which is pretty good considering the last week of games. They cannot blame poor ball movement, getting 21 assists on 31 field goal makes.
The opportunity was there. Holding a three-point lead through the first half and erasing a 15-point deficit behind some strong defense and fantastic ball movement to find open shooters. It felt like things were solved.
The missed opportunities though will be the one that hurts this team most. Orlando is not a team in the business of moral victories. Not a team in the business of finding silver linings even in tough losses.
The Pacers, in the end, took it to the Magic, playing with a fire and edge and willingness to sacrifice that is necessary in these type of games. Indiana attacked the offensive glass, harried and harrassed Chris Duhon, Larry Hughes, Hedo Turkoglu and Orlando's ball handlers. The hustle stats were all in the Pacers' favor. Orlando lost its third straight game, falling 106-85 at Amway Center on Sunday.
Indiana redoubled its effort when the team most needed it. Orlando could not find the reserves to keep going at Indiana to erase another double-digit lead. The Magic looked fantastic in a 29-point second quarter to erase a 15-point deficit and take a three-point lead into the locker room. But the Pacers had the plan to stick a knife through the Magic and dissipate their will to keep fighting (they kept fighting, but made no serious run).
The ball went immediately into the post to David West going up against Ryan Anderson. The recent free agent acquisition for the Pacers had a quiet first half, but came alive with the attention Frank Vogel's offense gave him. He got Indiana going and quickly Indiana was back in the lead and beginning to pull away. West scored 16 points and grabbed seven rebounds.
Most important of those seven rebounds were his four offensive rebounds. The Pacers took control of the game on the offensive glass and pulled away on the offensive glass. The Magic had just two second-chance points. The Pacers had 30 second-chance points on 13 offensive rebounds. No offensive rebound seemed bigger than the two or three Tyler Hansbrough collected on the final possession of the third quarter. He scored a put back and drew a foul on Dwight Howard to give the Pacers a 12-point lead heading to the final frame.
The play from the always hard-charging Hansbrough was symbolic of what went wrong in the second half. The Magic gave up a lot of their second-chance points then and just got outhustled and outworked. Stan Van Gundy had no explanation for the lack of energy his team displayed in the third quarter and beyond.
For the third straight game, the Magic failed to score 40 points in the second half, scoring 17 in each quarter tonight. The defense was not much better.
Orlando showed that it has the will to play strong defense. The Pacers scored only 19 points in the second quarter as the Magic suddenly and briefly awoke to put on the kind of scoring and defensive onslaught everyone comes to expect from the Magic. Either the team was too fatigued to go hard after it for the full 48 minutes tonight or the attention to detail was lacking to finish the job.
Either way, the Pacers came out the aggressors and took the wind out from under the Magic's sails. That is all the record will show.
And really, Indiana did that from the opening tip off. Save for that stretch in the second quarter, the Pacers took it to the Magic.
Darren Collison put pressure on Chris Duhon in the same way Avery Bradley put pressure on Jameer Nelson last week. There were 11 first-quarter turnovers for Orlando, including a few right around midcourt that led to several easy fast breaks. It was not just Duhon, Turkoglu became guilty of a few of those too.
In the end, Orlando made those 11 turnovers not matter much as the team came back to take the lead.
But you look back at them as missed opportunities. Orlando took only 64 field goal attempts. Indiana had 88. And with the defense laxing up in the second half, the Pacers still shot better than 50 percent for the game.
More missed opportunities came at the free throw line. Dwight Howard scored 24 points and grabbed 13 rebounds. But he hit only 4 of his 15 free throws. That left 11 points on the board (maybe less, because of Howard's low free throw shooting clip). The Magic hit only 13 of 29 free throws.
Howard was again the most consistent offensive option. And his effectiveness -- he had just a 61.2 percent true shooting percentage, but it certainly could have been better -- was diminished by all the misses.
Even some of the things that worked offensively, like the early plays for Jason Richardson that had him scoring seven of his 13 points in the first six minutes of the game, went away. Orlando's offense returned to stagnation and frustration in the second half.
The energy was better Sunday night. But it is nowhere near where the Magic need it to get where they want to go. This is not a team in favor of moral victories. This is a team that has championship aspirations (maybe it is time lower that bar?). It is not getting it done right now.