In a home opener that lacked any fanfare, the Orlando Magic were able to defeat the Houston Rockets by the score of 104-95. It was Kevin McHale’s head coaching debut with the Rockets and they put forth a solid effort, but the Magic overwhelmed them in the fourth quarter with Hedo Turkoglu leading the charge. Turkoglu turned back the clock for Orlando, looking like the 2009 version of himself, finishing with a game-high 23 points on 10-of-14 shooting from the field, six rebounds, and four assists. But it was Turkoglu’s performance in the final period that was most impressive and reminded many Magic fans of him as “Mr. Fourth Quarter,” as he scored 13 points and shut the door on Houston. Dwight Howard was solid, as he finished with 21 points, seven rebounds, three assists, and three blocks. J.J. Redick was superb off the bench for Orlando, chipping in with 20 points on 12 shots. The Rockets were led by Kyle Lowry, as he came close to notching a triple-double with 20 points, 12 assists, and seven rebounds.
Even though the Magic were playing on a back-to-back and against an opponent on plenty of rest, weary legs were never an issue. Orlando played with the type of energy and effort that’s needed to win games in the NBA.
To be honest, most of the game was uneventful.
The first half was a tug of war between the Magic and Rockets. Orlando led the entire way in the first and second quarters but could never pull away as Luis Scola kept Houston within striking distance, given that Kevin Martin really struggled to get anything going offensively. And this wasn’t a case where the Magic were effectively bottling up Martin, he was just missing open shots more often than not. Also, since Martin couldn’t get to the free-throw line, which is usually his trusty safety valve when his shot isn’t falling, the Rockets needed to find elsewhere. Luckily for Houston, Scola was able to provide that scoring punch and keep them in the game as the Magic built a lead.
It was more of the same in the second half. The Rockets would chip away at the deficit but Orlando would always keep a distance. Martin’s shot never came alive in the third and fourth quarters but fortunately for Houston, they got plenty of scoring from Terrence Williams and Courtney Lee at the wing positions alongside Lowry, who was his stellar self.
Given that Lee, Lowry, and Williams were playing well, McHale made the tactical decision to play them together in the fourth quarter when it was clear that the game was still winnable for the Rockets. As such, Houston went with a 5-man unit of Lowry, Lee, Martin, Williams, and Scola. Which meant that Scola, at 6-foot-9, had to deal with Howard at center. Fortunately for McHale, Howard never really punished Scola in the post in the five minutes or so that they were matched up with each other in the period. Instead, the counter the Rockets’ small ball lineup, head coach Stan Van Gundy elected to go with Jameer Nelson, Jason Richardson, Redick, Turkoglu, and Howard. Needless to say, the lineup was fantastic.
Turkoglu took the reigns of the offense in the fourth quarter and there was not much Houston could do about it. Turkoglu did an excellent job of not only creating for himself but for others as well. On one possession in the period, Turkoglu dribble penetrated into the lane and kicked it out to Redick for a three-pointer. On another possession, Turkoglu ran a 4/5 pick-and-roll with Howard on the left wing (also known as a side screen-and-roll) and made a layup. When Turkoglu wasn’t busy attacking the middle of the Rockets’ defense, he was making fallaway jumpers with abandon and looking like the player from 2009.
It’s way too early to tell but at the very least, it has to be encouraging for Van Gundy to see Turkoglu be aggressive on offense. It’s said that the Magic are at their best when Nelson is at his best but a similar theory applies to Turkoglu. When Turkoglu is a playmaker for Orlando, good things tend to happen.
Maybe this is just the beginning of a bounce-back year for Turkoglu.