The Orlando Magic were able to defeat the Indiana Pacers by the score of 102-83, a night after scoring a franchise-worst 56 points against the Boston Celtics. For the Pacers, it was their first home loss of the regular season and it was the second time they allowed a team to score more than 100 points against them (the Miami Heat accomplished the feat first). The Magic were led by a balanced attack, as five players scored in double-figures. Ryan Anderson led the way for Orlando, finishing with a game-high 24 points on 8-of-14 shooting from the field (including 5-of-7 from three-point range) and eight rebounds. Dwight Howard had a modest game for his standards, chipping in with 14 points, nine rebounds, and two steals in roughly 25 minutes of playing time (he was saddled with foul trouble for a majority of the first half). J.J. Redick had 15 points, while Glen Davis had 15 points, five rebounds, and two blocks. Hedo Turkoglu finished with 11 points and eight assists. The Magic got solid contributions from everyone in head coach Stan Van Gundy’s rotation, with Earl Clark making a cameo appearance as well. For Howard, by scoring 14 points, he becomes the franchise’s leading scorer in his eighth season, breaking Nick Anderson’s previous mark of 10,650 points.
In the first quarter, Orlando looked disinterested playing against Indiana quite frankly. For the Pacers, players like Roy Hibbert and Danny Granger did the most to take advantage of the Magic’s lethargic start. Hibbert got things going quickly, scoring against Howard and even drawing two fouls on him roughly six minutes into the period. It was Hibbert’s activity early that allowed him to get the best of Howard. As for Granger, he did a nice job of creating shots for himself in catch-and-shoot situations or off the dribble. At the end of the quarter, Hibbert and Granger had combined for 20 of Indiana’s 29 points.
With Howard in foul trouble and the Pacers enjoying a seven-point lead heading into the second quarter, it seemed like they had control. And after Howard picked up his third foul less than 30 seconds in the period after Lou Amudson drew a foul on a shot fake, Indiana had a golden opportunity to increased their lead and put Orlando in a deep hole.
That never happened.
Instead, the Magic slowly chipped away at the Pacers’ lead and in the process, got a surprising contribution from a rarely-used player.
Because Howard had to sit on the bench, Van Gundy was forced to use Clark since his big man rotation was all out of whack. As such, Clark got burn at power forward alongside Glen Davis and he dominated defensively. In the second quarter, Clark had a number of defensive sequences that really exemplifies the potential he has on that end of the floor. On three separate possessions, Clark was able to block a Tyler Hansbrough jumpshot, a Hibbert dunk attempt, and a Dahntay Jones layup attempt. That’s three blocks in less than four minutes of playing time. Clark put his length and athleticism to proper use on defense against Indiana, and he changed the complexion of the game in the process. Despite Howard not playing, the Pacers were unable to take advantage of his absence and their scoring came to a halt thanks in large part due to Clark’s efforts. By the end of the period, Orlando had tied the game at 45 apiece as their perimeter shots started to fall.
In the second half, with Howard finally getting extended minutes, the Magic were able to impose their will.
In the third quarter, Orlando began to pick apart Indiana’s defense by running pick-and-rolls. Whether it was a 3/5 pick-and-roll with Turkoglu and Howard that ended with a dunk for Howard, a staggered 1/5 pick-and-roll with Jameer Nelson, Anderson, and Howard that ended with another dunk for Howard, or a 1/4 pick-and-roll with Nelson and Anderson that ended in a corner three for Turkoglu on the right side of the court, it became clear that the Magic could generate almost any look they wanted offensively. And Orlando did.
With a 12-point lead entering the fourth quarter, the Magic did not let up on the gas against the Pacers. The pick-and-rolls kept coming, Orlando kept scoring, and that was that.
But it wasn’t just the Magic’s insistence on running pick-and-rolls that won them the game. It was also a defensive gameplan concocted by Van Gundy and executed by the players that allowed Orlando to win.
It is rare for the Magic to double-team as a unit defensively. Van Gundy doesn’t like doing it because teams that can handle double-teams well and are great at moving the ball can create havoc in a hurry. However, Indiana is not one of those teams and as a result, Van Gundy let the double-teams loose. The Pacers did a poor job almost every time one of their players was double-teamed, either missing open shots, putting up errant shots, or turning the basketball over. Orlando swarmed on defense, playing with active hands, disrupting passing lanes, and generally doing a good job of making things difficult for Indiana offensively. That strategy silenced David West (3-of-8 shooting from the field), a notorious Magic killer that had a matchup advantage against Anderson which was negated by Van Gundy’s choice to double-team him, and slowed down Hibbert (5-of-16 shooting from the field) after his quick start.
None of Indiana’s main threats on offense hurt Orlando.
That’s the primary reason the Magic came away with a victory. Surely Van Gundy will be pleased that offensively, aside from Nelson and Jason Richardson, he got solid contributions up and down the roster, But there’s no question that Van Gundy will like that Orlando won with defense.
At the end of the day, how the Magic perform defensively will determine how good of a team they can be.
Eddy Rivera is the Editor-in-Chief of Magic Basketball. Follow him on Twitter.