Jameer Nelson has rarely made mistakes in the fourth quarter and overtime. At least not this bad. His mental errors were the signs of a team tired from a nine-day, five-game trip that had one final pit stop in Milwaukee before returning to Florida.
Nelson was probably yelling at himself as much as the fans when he fouled Brandon Jennings late and allowed Jennings to erase a 3-point lead at the free throw line instead of in play with four seconds left in the fourth quarter. He probably kicked himself again when he fouled Jennings as he made a 3-pointer to help Milwaukee erase a four-point overtime lead in one fell swoop.
But with the Magic needing a bucket to finally put the game out of reach, the Magic turned to Nelson. And after so many mistakes that would frustrate anybody, Nelson drained an elbow jumper to put the Magic up four and effectively put the game away for Orlando. He would not make any other errors late in this game as the Magic pulled out an ugly 93-89 overtime victory at Bradley Center on Wednesday, clinching a fifth straight playoff berth.
Orlando really struggled throughout the second half after taking a nine-point lead into the locker. The Magic played active on defense and took advantage offensively. Although some of that credit has to go to a Milwaukee offense that is pretty inept.
The second half was a completely different story. Orlando came out flat and John Salmons came out attacking. The Magic started showing the wear and tear that comes with the end of a long road trip. It is an excuse, but as shots continued to come up short and mistakes began to pile up, it became more and more evident that this was a likely culprit.
Milwaukee won the third quarter 27-15 to take the lead and held Orlando to just 33 second-half points. The Magic offense became very stagnant as that point total suggests. Jason Richardson, who scored 13 points, had 10 of them in the first half. Orlando struggled to get into an offensive rhythm from that point.
The Magic really left a lot of points at the free throw line. They shot 20 for 35 from the line, with Dwight Howard accounting for 11 of those misses. The team was leaning pretty hard on Howard to carry the team on both sides and he started to show some fatigue as the game went down to the end.
Orlando did not help itself either with 16 more turnovers, an effort Stan Van Gundy bemoaned postgame yet again.
Credit Milwaukee's defense for a great effort, holding Orlando to 43.4 percent shooting and 7 for 27 from beyond the arc. Dwight Howard was the only player to get much going offensively, pouring in 31 points and 21 rebounds as the Bucks played without Andrew Bogut.
But despite how ugly and frustrating the game was, Orlando seemed to get better in the overtime. The Magic might have been trying to foul Jennings at the end of the game up three (unsuccessfully) in fear of a tired team having to play overtime. This thought might have been confirmed when Jason Richardson settled for a pull-up 27-footer that clanged off the front iron to avoid overtime.
Ryan Anderson and Hedo Turkoglu stepped up their games to support Howard and gut out this win. Turkoglu hit the first jumper of the overtime period and had 8 of his 19 points in the overtime period. Anderson was hustling throughout the night even though his shot was not falling. He shot only 2 for 8 and 1 for 7 from deep, but his effort on the glass, where he got 13 rebounds and 3 offensive boards, got him the nod over Brandon Bass late in the game. He was a very bright spot.
The Magic should not be happy with how this game ended. But as Van Gundy said, he is happy to get out of Milwaukee with a win. That is perhaps what should be taken out of this. The Magic, tired and road weary, made plenty of mistakes but still won. Back in the 2009 days, these were the types of games Orlando prided itself on.
Now comes the confidence to correct those mistakes and make your coach feel a little easier about these games.