In a Wild West shootout that featured a lot of intentional fouling and little defense, the Orlando Magic were able to defeat the Golden State Warriors by the score of 117-109. With the win, the Magic went 3-0 on their West Coast road trip. Dwight Howard’s struggles at the free-throw line are well-documented, as he’s never been better than a 60 percent free-throw shooter in his career. This season, however, Howard has really struggled, shooting 42.6 percent from the free-throw line before facing off against the Warriors. As a result, head coach Mark Jackson decided to intentionally foul Howard throughout the game. With Howard getting intentionally fouled and also generating fouls on his own during the natural flow of the game, he set an NBA record by amassing 39 free-throw attempts (breaking the previous record of 34 set by Wilt Chamberlain in 1962). Howard went 21-of-39 from the free-throw line, which comes out to a 53.8 percentage. Yet Howard made 12 of his last 15 free-throw attempts so, as Shaquille O’Neal would like to say, he made them when they counted. In any case, Howard put up video game-like numbers, finishing with a game-high 45 points, 23 rebounds, three assists, four steals, and two blocks. Hedo Turkoglu put up 20 points on 5-of-12 shooting from the field, nine assists, and four rebounds. J.J. Redick had 13 points and Ryan Anderson had 11 points. Golden State got brilliant performances from Monta Ellis, as he amassed 30 points and 11 assists while David Lee contributed with 26 points, 12 rebounds, four assists, and two steals.
It really was an entertaining game on both sides.
The Warriors jumped out to an early lead because they played with more energy and effort than the Magic. It seemed like, for most of the first half, Orlando wasn’t really trying on both ends of the floor. If the Magic played like they did against the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday, this game would have been over after the first half. But that’s not how things work in the NBA. Each game is played in a vacuum and Golden State was the aggressor in the first and second quarters against Orlando. The Magic didn’t have much trouble scoring in the first half, but they certainly had a lot of problems trying to slow down the Warriors from doing the same. That explains Orlando’s four-point deficit at halftime.
In the third quarter, the Magic finally got some stops on defense and were able to briefly take the lead in the middle of the period. But Golden State was able to regain control of the game as the quarter came to an end, thanks in large part to Ellis dominating offensively. Ellis scored nine points in a little more than a minute and the Warriors entered the fourth quarter up by two.
The final period was chaotic. At this point, after consistently intentionally fouling Howard for the first three quarters, Golden State abstained from doing so in the fourth quarter. As such, Howard was able to get into a groove on offense and did some serious damage in 4-out/1-in offensive sets, making a number of righty hooks. It was more than obvious that the Warriors had no one that could stop Howard from scoring on the low block so Orlando kept feeding Howard and he either scored or got fouled, shooting 8-of-11 at the free-throw line in the quarter.
But the most important thing about Howard drawing fouls is that he fouled out Lee, which ended up being one of the game-changing plays that won the game for the Magic. The sequence in question came at the 1:05 mark in the fourth quarter. With the game tied at 109, Orlando ran a 4/5 pick-and-roll with Turkoglu (at power forward) and Howard, with Turkoglu attempting a fallaway three on the right wing that almost went in but ultimately rimmed out. Howard, though, was able to snare the offensive rebound and make the putback layup while also getting fouled. The player that had no choice but to hack at Howard, in hopes of preventing him from making the shot, was Lee. With Golden State playing small in crunch time, placing Lee at center, he fouled Howard three times in less than three minutes. The reason that was a game-changing play was because the Magic struggled to contain Lee throughout the game, with Anderson experiencing the most struggles defensively. Likewise, the Warriors ran a 2/5 pick-and-roll with Ellis and Lee in crunch-time that generated a wide-open three-pointer for Klay Thompson on the wing that momentarily gave them the lead at 107-106, then a layup for Ellis shortly there after to tie the game at 109 before Howard’s three-point play. Needless to say, Lee was a key cog for the Warriors and his absence with the game on the line was a big loss for them.
On the flipside, another game-changer for Orlando came after Howard’s three-point play gave them the lead at 112-109. After Ellis missed a three-pointer that would have tied the game, the Magic allowed Turkoglu to be a playmaker and he went to work, as has been the case this season in crunch time. On the ensuing possession after Ellis’ missed three-point shot, Turkoglu (at power forward) and Howard ran a 4/5 pick-and-roll. Turkoglu was able to dribble penetrate into the lane, then he kicked it out to Von Wafer in the right corner for a three-pointer. Wafer made the shot, Orlando was now up by six points, and that was the ballgame.
It’s easy to get enamored with Howard’s gaudy stat-line but he easily could have scored more than 50 points. Howard left a lot of points on the court and not just at the free-throw line. For example, Howard should have connected on an alley-oop dunk with Turkoglu in the fourth quarter but the basketball slipped out of his hands at the last second. Easy baskets that Howard normally makes should have been made but weren’t.
Howard’s defense could have been better too. Many times, Howard was slow to rotate over defensively in the paint and Golden State, particularly Ellis with his aggressive forays at the rim, took advantage.
Nevertheless, flaws aside, Howard was magnificent. And the Magic needed every bit of Howard’s brilliance against a feisty Warriors team that had already beaten the Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat this season.
Eddy Rivera is the Editor-in-Chief of Magic Basketball. Follow him on Twitter.