On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the Orlando Magic were able to defeat the New York Knicks by the score of 102-93, extending their winning streak to a season-high four games and sweeping a four-game road trip that started on the West Coast. In a rare matinee game, the Magic started off slow but battled back and forth with the Knicks for a majority of the day. However, in the fourth quarter, Orlando was able to turn on the jets and come away with a victory. The Magic were led by a balanced attack, as four players scored in double-figures. Ryan Anderson finished with a career-high 30 points on 11-of-19 shooting from the field (including 7-of-13 from three-point range) and seven rebounds. Anderson torched New York, surprisingly outplaying Amar’e Stoudemire in the process. J.J. Redick, filling in at the shooting guard position for an injured Jason Richardson, had 21 points on 8-of-12 shooting from the field. Hedo Turkoglu chipped in with 15 points and four assists, while Glen Davis came off the bench to put up 12 points and six rebounds. Carmelo Anthony led the way for the Knicks, finishing with a game-high 33 points (albeit on 27 shot attempts), eight rebounds, five assists, and three steals. Saddled with foul trouble up until the fourth quarter, Stoudemire had 10 points in roughly 22 minutes of playing time.
What about Dwight Howard you ask?
The answer is that Howard struggled mightily on both ends of the floor. New York made the tactical decision to mix up coverages defensively against Howard, double-teaming him while also allowing Tyson Chandler to defend him on the low block one-on-one. The strategy worked, especially when Chandler defended the big fella, as he went into his bag of tricks to frustrate Howard. Whether it was using both of his hands (which is illegal) in the post to push Howard out of his comfort zones in the post or drawing offensive fouls, Chandler showed why he’s one of the premier defensive players in the NBA. As such, Howard finished with eight points on six shot attempts.
Howard’s defense wasn’t that much better, as he was unable to contain the Knicks when they attacked the rim throughout the game. Fortunately for Howard, head coach Stan Van Gundy remedied this problem in the fourth quarter by switching to a 2-3 zone, a decision that ended up winning the game for Orlando.
We’ll get to Van Gundy’s game-changer in a second.
The Magic were in a dogfight with the Knicks for several reasons.
First, there was no one on Orlando’s roster that could contain Anthony. Van Gundy tried everything to slow down Anthony — double-teams, using Quentin Richardson and Earl Clark defensively, you name it. Nothing worked. Anthony is one of the greatest scorers in the league because he can overpower you with his strength and size or get by you with his athleticism. Anthony has all the tools offensively and the Magic were at his mercy for most of the game.
Second, New York — New York! — was active on defense. Chandler’s impressive work against Howard has already been mentioned but players like Iman Shumpert made impacts as well. Shumpert stood out because, at 6-foot-5, he bothered Jameer Nelson and Chris Duhon with his strength, size, and athleticism. Shumpert never made it easy for either Nelson or Duhon to coordinate Orlando’s attack offensively. But perhaps what was most impressive about Shumpert was his ability to get a number of steals with his hands. One of Shumpert’s strengths on defense is that he’s a ballhawk. There’s two examples that come to mind. In the second quarter, Turkoglu was on the left elbow about to put up a fallaway jumper but as he went to shoot, Shumpert swiped at the basketball and took it away. In the third quarter, after Howard blocked a layup attempt by Anthony, Clark got the ball and proceeded to run a fast break (don’t ask why). As soon as Clark got to half-court and waited to hand the basketball off to Nelson, Shumpert came from behind and stole the ball, initiating a fast break for the Knicks that led to a highlight reel-worthy behind-the-back pass to Anthony for a layup. It was a great sequence for Shumpert and one of many excellent defensive plays made by New York.
Third, turnovers. Again, the Knicks’ activity on defense and commitment to disrupting the passing lanes the Magic were the main reasons. Time and again, Orlando generally did a poor job of taking care of the basketball and it led to wasted possessions offensively.
However, the Magic were able to overcome these obstacles by shooting lights-out from the three-point line and that timely switch to a zone defense.
In the third quarter, Orlando blistered New York behind the arc. Whether it was a staggered 3/5 pick-and-roll with Turkoglu, Anderson, and Howard, a 1/5 pick-and-roll with Nelson and Howard, or spotting up, the Magic drained threes and there was little the Knicks could do about it. Orlando’s spacing offensively is generally always superb and it was against New York, as Turkoglu and Anderson were the primary players connecting from downtown.
Anderson, especially, dismantled New York. With Stoudemire in foul trouble in the period, Jared Jeffries and Josh Harrellson had no chance trying to contain Anderson on the perimeter.
The Magic continued punishing the Knicks in the fourth quarter with a blitzkrieg three-point attack and as Anderson and Turkoglu kept making three-pointers, the crowd at Madison Square Garden audibly groaned. In Anderson’s case, the very moment he was open for a three-point shot, the crowd grew restless.
With the fourth quarter winding down and Orlando struggling to contain New York’s dribble penetration, as well as the fact that Howard got into foul trouble in the period and was playing with five fouls in crunch time, Van Gundy’s decision to switch to a 2-3 zone (which is unheard of for him) ended up being the difference for the Magic. The Knicks did a good job of moving the ball around the perimeter but they forgot to do one thing and that’s attack the middle. For the most part, New York settled for jumpers. With Orlando struggling to contain players like Anthony on offense, the ability to generate consecutive stops on defense in crunch time was critical because the timing couldn’t have been more perfect. Quite simply, Van Gundy threw the zone at the Knicks at a perfect time. New York didn’t have time to adjust offensively and they lost.
Yes, Turkoglu was big down the stretch, expertly running 3/5 pick-and-rolls with Howard to perfection and Redick made some layups in transition that padded the lead for Orlando in the final stretch. But the 2-3 zone won it for the Magic and that’s where Van Gundy deserves most of the credit.
Eddy Rivera is the Editor-in-Chief of Magic Basketball. Follow him on Twitter.