Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
It’s been said that no one should underestimate the heart of a champion. Or in this case, no one should underestimate the heart of an underdog, as the Orlando Magic were able to defeat the Miami Heat by the score of 99-96 after being down by as many as 24 points in the game — it’s the second-largest comeback victory in franchise history. Not only did the improbable comeback come against the Heat, a rival for the Magic, but it came in a nationally televised game where almost anyone interested in the NBA had their attention focused on the matchup. On a day where people were wondering whether or not Orlando should be taken seriously as the playoffs steadily approach, that question has been answered. The Magic were led by a balanced attack, as five players scored in double-figures. There were those that hoped Dwight Howard would put up a monster performance and continue his surge in the MVP race, but they’ll have to be content with a stat-line of 14 points, 18 rebounds, five assists, and five blocks. However, it’s worth mentioning that Howard was a force defensively in the fourth quarter, as he compiled 10 rebounds and three blocks as Orlando made their comeback charge. Jason Richardson was one of the catalysts in the comeback, as he finished with 24 points on 9-of-14 shooting from the field (6-of-8 from three-point range). Jameer Nelson, too, was integral in the process, as he chipped in with 16 points and seven assists. Ryan Anderson had 15 points, while Gilbert Arenas had 11 points including a sequence where he couldn’t “feel his face” after making two three-pointers in the fourth quarter that tied the game for the Magic and subsequently gave them the lead after trailing for most of the contest. For Orlando, these are the types of games that can energize a roster and reinforce the belief they can beat any team on a given night.
Let’s first start with the bad.
How were the Heat able to build a 24-point lead?
There were a couple of factors, including a lack of competitive fire from the Magic during the first and second quarters. But it mostly had to do with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade shooting lights-out from the perimeter. In the first half, James and Wade combined to shoot 17-of-20 from the field for 43 points (to put that number in perspective, Orlando scored 45 points as a team). And almost all of James’ and Wade’s points came, as mentioned before, on jumpshots. To be frank, aside from putting more defensive pressure on both superstars, there wasn’t much the Magic could do from stopping that type of explosion offensively. The only hope would be that Miami would go away from the things that worked for them on offense, while Orlando would ratchet up the intensity defensively. Surprisingly enough, that’s what happened in the second half.
Not that it was a calculated decision but it was clear that James and Wade let off on the gas pedal a little bit in the third quarter when the lead ballooned to 24 points and a victory seemed all but assured. James and Wade began deferring to their teammates but players like Chris Bosh weren’t making shots.
On the flipside, the Magic began to tighten up on defense and slowly chipped away at the lead as the perimeter attack began to find their groove. Nelson and Richardson started knocking down shots and suddenly, Orlando was down nine points heading into the fourth quarter.
That’s when the Magic put the finishing touches on, what ended up being when it was all said and done, a 40-9 run that gave them the lead by the score of 89-82 before the Heat battled back.
It’s almost ironic that Orlando’s torrid three-point shooting ability is what launched them back in the game, given that James and Wade were equally unconscious themselves during the first half. in a way, it was a battle of extremes but fortunately for the Magic, they had more bullets in their gun chamber. If there’s a major weakness for Miami, it’s that when James, Wade, and Bosh are not playing well simultaneously, that puts a lot of pressure on a flawed supporting cast to pick up the slack. Unfortunately for the Heat, aside from Erick Dampier, there was no one else that could provide James and Wade with the support they needed on offense when things grinded to a halt. Bosh didn’t do much for Miami.
For Orlando, Howard got plenty of help. Richardson couldn’t miss a three-pointer even if he tried, scoring 17 points in the second half. Nelson was a maven in the pick and roll, destroying the Heat’s defense from within, and displaying the type of aggressiveness that the Magic need from him consistently. Arenas was a spark plug, making two three-pointers in roughly a minute’s span that gave Orlando the lead in the fourth quarter — which they would never relinquish.
Something needs to be said about Quentin Richardon‘s defense on James, though.
Richardson fought out there and even though he’s technically undersized when defending James, his strength and heart more than made up for it. One of the main questions that the Magic have been trying to figure out is who will be the team’s perimeter defender when push comes to shove? It might be Richardson. That being said, despite singing Richardson’s praises, that shouldn’t discount the team defense that was being executed by Orlando in the fourth quarter because it was stifling. For a while, it was hard not to crop up images of 2009 when the Magic’s rotations on defense, especially on the perimeter where they challenged almost every shot, were close to flawless. Of course, with Howard anchoring the middle, it begins to make sense as to why Miami’s offense began to bog down.
But even with the Heat suddenly trailing in the period, they had a chance to tie the game at 99 apiece after J.J. Redick made two free-throws to extend the lead to three points with eight seconds left in regulation. However, Orlando expertly defended the play designed by head coach Erik Spoelstra, in which Wade was supposed to receive the basketball. James tried to set a screen to free up Wade for a shot in the corner, but hat option was denied. As such, Bosh found himself with a clean look at the top of the key for the game-tying three-pointer but he missed it. Mike Miller, then, got the offensive rebound and kicked it out to James for a wide-open three, but he missed it too and Orlando — improbably — came away with the victory.
If there’s anything to take from the win, it’s that Nelson has to realize that he is the x-factor. Nelson was instrumental in Magic’s comeback against the Heat, displaying a fearlessness that’s not only needed but required.
Nelson’s take-no-prisoners attitude in pick and rolls is vital for Orlando to go far in the postseason. If Nelson doesn’t realize that by now, and it seems like he does given how he’s played in the last two games, then there’s not much else the Magic can do at this point. Still, wins like these reinforce the claim by Howard that there’s enough talent on the team to make noise in the playoffs.