Sparked by Dwight Howard‘s return to the starting lineup, the Orlando Magic were able to defeat the Philadelphia 76ers by the score of 95-85 in a game that was more lopsided than the end result indicates. Although the win was meaningless in the sense that the Magic are locked in to the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference, it does give them a chance to finish the regular season at 52-30. That would give Orlando a stretch of four seasons under head coach Stan Van Gundy in which they finished with records of 52-30, 59-23, 59-23, and 52-30 — a symmetrical four-year stretch for those that are into that sort of thing. The Magic were led by a balanced attack, as four players scored in double-figures. Howard finished with a modest stat-line of 19 points, 13 rebounds, four assists, two steals, and three blocks but he got the internet abuzz when he posterized Jrue Holiday in the third quarter on a fastbreak, easily one of the best dunks of the year in the NBA. The transition dunk was triggered after Jason Richardson scooped up a loose ball, zipped it up to Jameer Nelson, and from there it was showtime. Nelson eluded Holiday in the open court, then sprinted down the right side and lobbed the basketball up for Howard. For whatever reason, Holiday tried to intercept the pass but it was too late, as Howard caught the ball and dunked on Holiday with such anger, such fury, such hatred, that the crowd at the Wells Fargo Center awoke and responded with emotions involving disbelief and pleasure. For a split second, Holiday shared a timeless moment with Howard that will live on in infamy. Nelson’s return to the Philadelphia treated him well, as he finished with 19 points, seven assists, and two steals. Ryan Anderson continues to play at a high level, contributing with 18 points, 14 rebounds, and two steals in roughly 22 minutes of action coming off the bench as the sixth man. Richardson chipped in with 12 points, five rebounds, and three steals.
Needless to say, this was an odd game that had plenty of entertaining moments but also some strange statistical quirks. In the first half, the Magic committed 12 turnovers and seemed content coughing the ball up whenever they pleased. Partly because of the turnovers, which gave the basketball back to the Sixers without a missed shot logged in the play-by-play data, the rebounding discrepancy between both teams was absolutely mind-boggling. In the first and second quarters, Orlando out-rebounded Philadelphia by a 25-2 margin at one point. That’s unheard of. Again, part of it was because the Magic turned the ball over a lot, which created empty possessions that didn’t require a rebound. But at the same time, Orlando did dominate the glass thanks to the collective efforts of Howard and Anderson. Especially Anderson, given that he continues to do excellent work on the offensive glass, piling up seven rebounds on that end of the floor and creating extra possessions for the Magic.
To put some of the weird numbers in perspective, Chris Duhon had seven rebounds, which was more than any player on the Sixers for the entire game.
For head coach Doug Collins, that has to be embarrassing, to witness Philadelphia unable to out-rebound a point guard, let alone Duhon. As they say, it was one of those games. The Sixers did redeem themselves by winning the rebounding battle the rest of the way with a 29-21 margin, but the damage was already done.
Nevertheless, despite the lack of rebounds, Philadelphia made things competitive after Orlando jumped out to an early lead in the first quarter. With the Magic’s second unit depleted due to the suspension of Quentin Richardson and the injuries to J.J. Redick and Gilbert Arenas, the Sixers — with one of the better second units in the league — were able to cut into an 11-point deficit with a 14-0 run, tying things up momentarily before trailing by three points at halftime. With Van Gundy forced to trot out Duhon and Malik Allen, it wasn’t pretty for Orlando on offense and that’s precisely why they lost their lead in the second quarter.
But at the start of the second half, the Magic were able to take control of the game after briefly losing the lead and trailing by two points. Sparked by Howard’s violent posterization of Holiday early in the third quarter, Orlando went on a 21-4 run that ballooned the lead to 15 points and effectively put the game away. Needless to say, Philadelphia ran into a buzzsaw.
[9:11] Turkoglu makes 19-foot two-point jumpshot
[8:10] Howard makes free throw 1 of 2
[8:10] Howard makes free throw 2 of 2
[7:26] Howard dunk (Nelson assist)
[6:54] Bass dunk (Richardson assist}
[6:07] Nelson makes 26-foot three-point jumpshot (Howard assist)
[4:39] Richardson makes 19-foot two-point jumpshot (Turkoglu assist)
[4:05] Howard makes layup (Nelson assist)
[4:05] Howard makes free throw 1 of 1
[3:06] Howard dunk
[2:24] Anderson makes 25-foot three-point jumpshot (Nelson assist)
Howard had his fingerprints on nearly ever possession in that sequence, even on Anderson’s three-pointer because that was created after Nelson executed a 1/5 pick and roll with Howard, dribble penetrated into the lane, and kicked it out to one of the Magic’s many sharpshooters. Howard played with reckless abandon during that stretch, and the players for Orlando followed suit.
Granted, the Magic were aided by Andre Igoudala’s absence, but when the starters were in the court, they outclassed the Sixers. The game was only close due to turnovers for the Magic, as well as the second unit being outplayed and relinquishing the lead which was built up by the starters. It can’t be understated that Orlando has to be healthy heading into the 2011 NBA Playoffs because the reserves can’t afford to pull off those shenanigans. In the postseason, a consistent three-man rotation of Redick, Arenas, and Anderson is enough.