Photo by Brock Williams-Smith/NBAE via Getty Images
The Charlotte Bobcats entered today’s game looking for their first playoff win in franchise history but the Orlando Magic didn’t follow the script, as they defeated the Bobcats by the score of 90-86 to take a commanding 3-0 series lead in the first round of the 2010 NBA Playoffs. The Magic were led by the player of the game and arguably the player of the series, so far — Jameer Nelson. For the second time in three games, Nelson tied a career playoff-high by scoring 32 points on 12-of-21 shooting and stepping up in crunch time when Orlando needed him. Plus, Nelson set a playoff franchise record by scoring the most points in a quarter (19 in the first). For a third consecutive game, Dwight Howard was saddled with foul trouble and finished with 13 points, eight rebounds, and seven blocks in roughly 26 minutes. Marcin Gortat played the unexpected role of playoff hero, sealing the game for the Magic by hitting two free-throws in the final seconds.
The energy and enthusiasm at Time Warner Cable Arena was palpable, as expected, as the Bobcats looked to get back in the series with a victory that they desperately needed. And for the majority of the game, things were looking good for Charlotte.
– The Bobcats’ bench, including the likes of Larry Hughes, Nazr Mohammed, and Tyrus Thomas, thoroughly outplayed the reserves for the Magic, not only by outscoring them but by playing at a higher intensity level that was undoubtedly attributed by the boisterous support of the home crowd.
– Orlando did a poor job of taking care of the basketball. The Magic turned the ball over 21 times, which literally played into the Bobcats’ hands since they are a team that feeds off of turnovers. Charlotte was third in the NBA during the regular season in turnover percentage (14.7%) so for them, seeing Orlando turning the ball over was a welcome sight. The reason being is that, since Charlotte has struggled all year to score on offense, they really need to create opportunities for themselves to get easy buckets in transition. Especially against a stout defense like the Magic. The Bobcats were able to do that, scoring 31 points off of turnovers.
– Once again, Howard was in foul trouble for the entire game. That made it a little easier for Charlotte to execute offensively because when Howard wasn’t in the game, he couldn’t impose his will on defense against them. On the flip-side, Howard’s absence forced Orlando to play outside-in instead of inside-out for most of the game, which became a problem as the offense bogged down for minutes at a time.
All those factors contributed to the game being tied at 66 apiece at the start of the fourth quarter.
That’s when Howard took over for the Magic.
Visibly frustrated by having to sit on the bench, Howard played with a mean streak on both ends of the court. On offense, Howard was involved in many 4-out/1-in offensive sets and even though he didn’t connect on a ton of shots, he was able to draw fouls on Charlotte’s big men and get to the free-throw line. Considering the circumstances, Howard scoring eight points in the fourth quarter seemed like a minor miracle. On defense, Howard was phenomenal. It’s no secret that the Bobcats like to attack the basket, no matter who is patrolling the paint, but Howard showed again why it’s not a good idea to do it against him by blocking five shots in the period. Unfortunately for Howard, that was the extent of his influence while being on the floor because with 3:31 left in the game, he picked up his fifth and sixth fouls on back-to-back possessions.
With Howard fouled out, it was more than obvious that someone needed to step up for Orlando if they wanted to come away with a victory. Fortunately for the Magic, Rashard Lewis accepted the challenge.
Displaying the type of aggressiveness he’s been showing all series long, Lewis attacked the basket on two consecutive possessions and was able to get to the charity stripe, where he connected on four free-throws to give Orlando a three-point lead with less than two minutes to go in the ball game. From there, the Magic were able to hang on for the win after the Bobcats were unable to hit any shots (excluding two free-throws from D.J. Augustin) and Gortat was able to ice the game by making two free-throws. Yes, Gortat.
But how about Nelson?
[11:37] Nelson, 25-foot three-point jump shot (Howard assist)
[8:42] Nelson makes layup (Barnes assist)
[8:07] Nelson, 26-foot three-point jump shot (Howard assist)
[6:58] Nelson makes driving layup
[3:41] Nelson, 25-foot three-point jump shot (Lewis assist)
[0:28] Nelson, 9-foot jump shot
[0:01] Nelson, 33-foot three-point jump shot
[10:53] Nelson, 25-foot three-point jump shot (Howard assist)
[9:44] Nelson, 16-foot jump shot
[8:23] Nelson, 17-foot jump shot
[3:41] Nelson, 18-foot jump shot
[0:43] Nelson makes free throw 1 of 2
[0:43] Nelson makes free throw 2 of 2
[1:06] Nelson makes two point shot
Nelson picked apart Charlotte’s defense with excellent marksmanship on the perimeter and his monster performance was one of the main reasons why Orlando won the game and have a chance to sweep Charlotte in Game 4.