In a game that went back-and-forth until the closing seconds of the fourth quarter, the San Antonio Spurs were able to defeat the Orlando Magic by the score of 106-97 to win their 11th consecutive game of the regular season. The loss for the Magic snaps the four game winning streak they had entering the night. The Spurs were led by Manu Ginobili, who had 25 points, nine assists, and six rebounds, as well as make clutch shots down the stretch. Tony Parker had 24 points and 10 assists, Tim Duncan had 15 points, and Matt Bonner had 15 points and seven rebounds — these players highlighted key contributions for San Antonio. On the other side of the coin, the Magic were led by three of their four All-Stars. Dwight Howard finished with 26 points, 18 rebounds, three steals, and two blocks, while Jameer Nelson and Rashard Lewis chipped in with 15 and 14 points respectively.
This was, without a doubt, one of the best games that will be played in the NBA for the entire season. These were two heavyweights playing at a level that seemed more conducive for the month of June rather than November. The execution was crisp on offense and defense for both teams, and the best players — for the most part — performed at the peak of their abilities. Ginobili and Parker left no doubt that they’re playing like All-Stars, while Howard continues to prove to the public that he’s a much more refined player offensively.
But let’s get to the nitty gritty.
On offense, Howard, Lewis, and Nelson going things going for Orlando in the first quarter. Head coach Stan Van Gundy did an excellent job of getting Lewis involved early. The first possession of the game offensively for the Magic saw Lewis find himself in a catch-and-shoot situation for a wide open three in the corner, set up by a nice screen from Howard to create separation from DeJuan Blair. On the next sequence, Vince Carter posted up on the low block and kicked it out to Lewis for another three-pointer. At that point, Lewis would drift in-and-out of the game on offense but plays would be called for him periodically.
Nelson was fantastic in the opening frame, playing at a controlled aggressiveness to Orlando’s advantage. Nelson got a majority of his points in pick and rolls, knifing into the lane for his new-found patented leaning jumper that he’s been showcasing more and more this year. Nelson had nine points in the period, and would end up dueling with Parker for the remainder of the evening.
As for Howard, he was able to get Duncan in foul trouble in the quarter by overpowering him on the low block in 4-out/1-in offensive sets.
The first quarter, which showcased the Magic and Spurs going after each other with haymakers, would serve as a precursor for the rest of the game. And the main thing that stood out for San Antonio, which initially caught Orlando off-guard (and the rest of the league for that matter), is their increased pace. On almost every missed shot for the Magic, the Spurs — usually spurred by Parker — would push the tempo and race down the floor in hopes of getting an easy basket in transition. More often than not, San Antonio would succeed in their goal.
The Spurs? Running up-and-down the court? Believe it.
Throughout the game, San Antonio got a heavy dose of Howard. It’s a blessing that Orlando was playing on nationally televised broadcast, because Howard was doing work in the low post.
In the second quarter, Howard was involved in 4-out/1-in offensive sets and put his lefty hook on display. On three possession, Howard used his left hand in attempt to score. Two times Howard succeed, the other time he was fouled. And just to remind the world that he’s still uber-athletic, Howard skied for an alley-oop dunk on a pass from Nelson. In the third quarter, Howard primarily went with the righty hook to do most of his damage. On one sequence in the period, which exemplifies the subtle growths in Howard’s game offensively, he posted up in a 4-out/1-in offensive set but was unable to get into position to score. Howard, then, kicked it out to the perimeter and used his lower body to get deeper into the paint, in which he got the basketball back and made a righty hook on Duncan.
The patience, the confidence, it’s all there for Howard.
The end of the fourth quarter defined the game, however.
[6:04, 86-83 SAS] Bonner makes 27-foot three point jumpshot (Parker assist)
[5:45, 86-85 ORL] Carter makes driving layup
[4:55, 88-85 SAS] Parker makes 21-foot jumpshot
[4:37, 88-87 SAS] Nelson makes 18-foot jumpshot
[4:15, 90-88 ORL] Pietrus makes 25-foot three-point jumpshot (Redick assist)
[3:53, 91-90 SAS] Parker makes 25-foot three-point jumpshot (Ginobili assist)
[3:25, 92-91 ORL] Howard makes 8-foot two-point shot
[3:09, 94-92 SAS] Jefferson makes 26-foot three-point jumpshot (Ginobili assist)
[2:30, 95-94 ORL] Lewis makes 26-foot three-point jumpshot (Nelson assist)
[2:09, 97-95 SAS] Ginobili makes 26-foot three-point jumpshot
Punches and counter-punches, as boxing enthusiasts would describe.
Throughout the period, the Magic and Spurs would respond to each other blows. However, Ginobili would prove to be the difference-maker for San Antonio was he was able to make a three-pointer after Lewis was able to make a three of his own to temporarily give Orlando a two-point lead. From there, with the Spurs up four after Nelson turned the ball over, Ginobili isolated Mickael Pietrus at the top of the key and dribble penetrated into the lane, putting up a floater that went in and drawing a foul to convert a traditional three-point play.
Game, set, match.
There’s no shame in the Magic losing this game but if an explanation is needed for the loss, turnovers proved to be their undoing. When Orlando needed to take care of the ball when it mattered most, they were unable to do it. Nelson’s turnover in the closing seconds of the game, with the Magic down four points, is a prime example.
If there’s any doubt that San Antonio is a title contender, there shouldn’t be.
The Spurs are for real this season.