The Orlando Magic were able to defeat the Cleveland Cavaliers by the score of 102-94, extending their winning streak to two games. The Magic were led by a balanced attack, as five players scored in double-figures. Dwight Howard led the way for Orlando with 19 points, 16 rebounds, and eight blocks. After resting from a sore knee the past two games, Jason Richardson made his return to the starting lineup and scored 19 points on 7-of-12 shooting from the field (including 3-of-4 from three-point range). Hedo Turkoglu finished with 18 points on 7-of-12 shooting from the field, seven rebounds, and four assists. Ryan Anderson chipped in with 17 points and eight rebounds. Von Wafer came off the bench and played well, putting up 11 points on 3-of-6 shooting from the field in roughly 16 minutes of playing time. Perhaps the one eye-opening stat for the Magic is that they turned the basketball over merely five times against the Cavaliers. And even though Howard shot 9-of-16 from the free-throw line, all 16 attempts came in the fourth quarter as head coach Byron Scott decided to intentionally foul him as the game winded down. Howard’s imbalanced free-throw distribution is probably one of the weirder stat quirks you’ll find this season. Orlando took firm control of the game from the first quarter onward.
Aware of Howard’s presence on the floor, Cleveland took a lot of jumpshots in the opening period and that aided in them falling into a deficit fairly quickly. The score was 18-9 in favor of the Magic before the Cavaliers went on an 8-0 run to end the quarter to cut their deficit to one.
Both teams went back-and-forth early in the second quarter before Orlando, leading by the score of 30-26 at this point in the game, was able to go on a 17-6 run to stretch their lead to 15 points. Four three-pointers by a combination of Anderson, Richardson, and Turkoglu fueled the scoring surge primarily. A small run by Cleveland before the end of the period allowed them to cut their deficit to 11 points heading into halftime.
It should be noted that throughout the first half, it seemed like Howard was going no more than half-speed on the court, especially on defense. There were instances in which Howard let someone beat him for a rebound when he was in a clear position to get it or allow a guard for the Cavaliers zoom right past him in transition, even though he has the quickness and athleticism to keep up with most guards. Even more than that, it didn’t seem like Howard was making a full effort to contest shots at the rim. Yes, in the first and second quarters, Howard was able to block two shots but knowing what he’s capable of defensively since he’s won three consecutive Defensive Player of the Year awards, it’s clear he could have done more on the floor.
And in the second half, Howard did just that.
In the third and fourth quarters, Howard looked like the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, contesting shots at the rim and dominating on the weak-side on defense, which allowed him to accumulate six blocks. Seeing Howard perform like that defensively made it more than obvious that he was taking plays off in the first half and coasting.
Thanks in large part to Howard returning to form on defense, that allowed the Magic to build their biggest lead of the game (21 points) near the start of the fourth quarter.
However, Cleveland went on a furious run in the final period, scoring 41 points after putting up a combined 53 points in the first three quarters. Ramon Sessions and Alonzo Gee were the two players for the Cavaliers that caught fire in the fourth quarter. Sessions got most of his points aggressively attacking the rim, while Gee got hot from the perimeter.
To try and complete the comeback, Scott went with the hack-a-Dwight strategy. Cleveland was able to get as close as five points with 2:15 left in regulation.
After Howard was fouled immediately following Gee’s three-point shot, which cut the Orlando’s lead to five points, he was able to make both free-throws. But given that the game was winding down and the Cavaliers were no longer able to intentionally foul Howard with less than two minutes in the game, because that would have given him two foul shots plus possession for the Magic, Scott got creative. On Orlando’s next two possessions, they ran 3/5 pick-and-rolls with Turkoglu and Howard. However, Cleveland deliberately allowed for Howard to get open on the roll to the basket, fouling him immediately once he caught the ball. So even though the Magic technically ran plays, Scott was still trying to intentionally foul Howard. But Howard went 3-of-4 from the free-throw line, which allowed Orlando to hold on for the victory.
Eddy Rivera is the Editor-in-Chief of Magic Basketball. Follow him on Twitter.