In a highly entertaining game that went down to the wire, the Orlando Magic were able to defeat the Portland Trail Blazers by the score of 107-104. For the Blazers, it was their first home loss of the regular season. The Magic were up by as many as 23 points in the third quarter but bad defense, turnovers, and missed free-throws almost did them in. Fortunately for Orlando, they were able to escape with a victory against Portland — an impressive win in a boisterous environment against a squad some consider an elite team and championship contender. The Magic were led by a balanced attack, as seven players scored in double-figures. Dwight Howard chipped in 13 points, 13 rebounds, and four assists but his struggles at the free-throw line continued, as he only shot 3-of-12 from the charity stripe. Hedo Turkoglu finished with 16 points, six assists, and three rebounds, making a layup and three-pointer late in the fourth quarter to fend off the Blazers’ rally. Jameer Nelson contributed with 16 points, five assists, and four rebounds. Ryan Anderson played well, finishing with 16 points and nine rebounds. J.J. Redick had 17 points, Jason Richardson had 15 points, and Glen Davis had 11 points and six rebounds. For Portland, LaMarcus Aldridge led the way with 23 points, eight rebounds, and two steals while Jamal Crawford (a notorious Magic killer) had a game-high 24 points as well as five assists and three rebounds.
For three quarters, Orlando was playing their best basketball of the regular season so far. The Magic’s offense was absolutely devastating at times and the Blazers were in the middle of the crossfire.
Orlando kicked things off in the first quarter with three layups and a dunk in less than two minutes to open up an 8-0 lead. Head coach Nate McMillan quickly called a timeout to stop the bleeding but the Magic were only getting started.
In the opening period, Orlando got whatever they wanted offensively thanks to ball movement, execution, and spacing on the court. On one possession in the quarter, the Magic ran a 1/4 pick-and-pop with Chris Duhon and Davis. Duhon initiated the play, passed it to Davis on the perimeter, Davis swung it to Turkoglu at the three-point line, and Turkoglu dished it to Redick on the wing for a three-pointer. On another possession, Duhon made a backdoor pass to Redick as he was cutting in the lane, Redick then kicked it out to Turkoglu on the perimeter, and Turkoglu made a three-point shot of his own on the wing. There was nothing more you could ask for from Orlando in the first quarter. The offense was at its very best and the Magic were moving on a string defensively.
The Blazers began to wake up in the second quarter, slowly chipping away at their deficit. But Orlando was able to keep a distance with a bevy of threes.
Then in the third quarter, it seemed like the Magic were going to blow the Blazers out of the gym. After leading by 12 points at halftime, Orlando quickly expanded the lead to 16 in a little more than two minutes. Then it seemed like the floodgates opened momentarily from the 8:59 mark in the period to the 5:56 mark. In that three-minute stretch, the Magic were able to expand the lead from 16 points to 23 points in a demoralizing manner. How? Well, Orlando just executed on offense to be frank. Richardson started the flurry off with a layup off a screen-and-curl, with Howard setting a screen on the left block. Then Nelson was able to make a three-pointer in transition with no hesitation, aggressively looking for his shot which is what the Magic need from him consistently. Then Nelson ran a 1/5 pick-and-roll with Howard, dribble penetrating into the paint and kicking it out to Turkoglu on the wing for a three-pointer. Then Orlando ran a 4-out/1-in offensive set for Howard, he got doubled by Portland, and he kicked out the ball to Anderson for another three-point shot.
The Blazers are no pushover defensively. Entering the game, Portland ranked 6th in Defensive Rating but it didn’t matter. The Magic, running almost every play conceivable in their playbook, were scoring at will. And with the Blazers down 17 points entering the fourth quarter, it didn’t seem like they had enough stops in them to make things interesting.
Needless to say, not only did Portland have enough stops defensively but they almost stole the game from Orlando in the final period. Turnovers were a big issue for the Magic, as they wasted possessions offensively and allowed the Blazers to slowly chip away at their once-sizable deficit.
Next, there was nothing Orlando could do from stopping Aldridge, Crawford, or Gerald Wallace from scoring almost every trip down the floor. Portland, in particular, ran 1/5 pick-and-pops with Crawford and Aldridge and scored almost every time on that play. The Magic were doing a terrible job with their pick-and-pop coverage, not recovering in time to contest any of Aldridge’s jumpers. Eventually, head coach Stan Van Gundy made the tactical decision to switch on defense whenever the Blazers ran pick-and-pops, which helped to solve the problem momentarily.
Missed free-throws were also an issue. This problem fell on Howard because almost every time he got fouled, he was unable to make Portland pay at the free-throw line. Like turnovers, this created empty possessions for Orlando. The silver lining with this problem was that Howard didn’t attempt many free-throws in the fourth quarter so there’s that. Portland’s comeback was fueled primarily by their own stellar execution on offense. After witnessing the Magic score seemingly at will, the Blazers were able to put together a scoring spree of their own and that’s when things did get interesting in the period.
With Orlando leading 102-93 with 1:07 remaining in regulation, it seemed like the game was essentially over. But Portland had other ideas. Wallace made a layup to cut the deficit to seven. After a 20-second timeout called by the Magic, Nelson turned it over after traveling while attempting to make a pass. On the ensuing possession, Crawford made a layup. Then Nelson made another gaffe by getting trapped in the corner on the inbounds pass after Crawford’s bucket, which allowed Wesley Matthews to steal the ball and make a layup. Just like that, the Blazers were down by three points and it was a one-possession game. But Nicolas Batum needlessly fouled Richardson with Orlando up three. Richardson made one of the two free-throws, which gave the Magic a four-point lead. Portland decided to get a quick two, running a 1/5 pick-and-pop with Crawford and Aldridge. Orlando elected to switch on the play, forcing Crawford to make a difficult floater over the arms of Howard.
Unfortunately for Portland, after Crawford’s floater, Redick made two-free throws and increased the lead to four points, Matthews missed a three-pointer, and that was the ballgame.
It seemed at times like the Magic were trying to their hardest to give the game away but they finally got the signature win they were looking for.
Eddy Rivera is the Editor-in-Chief of Magic Basketball. Follow him on Twitter.