AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack
When Jameer Nelson performed at an All-Star caliber level during the 2008-2009 regular season and 2010 NBA Playoffs, the Orlando Magic weren’t just a different team, they were a special team. A team that could beat anyone on any given night (except the Boston Celtics).
That team that could beat anyone on any given night?
It showed up against the Miami Heat. All thanks to Nelson.
You’d have to go back to Game 1 of the 2011 NBA Playoffs against the Atlanta Hawks to remember the last time Nelson played like an All-Star. That’s how good he was against the Heat.
It took Nelson a while to rev up his engines, too, scoring only five points in the first half before putting up 20 points in the second half and overtime combined. What did he do to eventually get going on offense?
It’s a novel concept, but Nelson’s aggressiveness offensively (or lack of it) has always determined how good of a player he is. When he’s passive, as he has been for most of this season, he’s an average point guard or worse. When he’s in attack mode, as he was against Miami, there’s not many point guards in the NBA that are better than Nelson. That’s not an overstatement either. That’s how good he can be.
In the second half, Nelson picked apart the Heat’s defense in a variety of ways. He spotted up from the perimeter and made a couple of three-pointers, not hesitating and shooting with decisiveness.
Nelson stepped up in the clutch. He made a big three-point shot on the left wing in crunch time with 44 seconds left in regulation and the game tied at 91 apiece. He received the outlet pass from Hedo Turkoglu after Turkoglu secured the rebound, dribbled up the court as the Magic were getting set to run a play, and hoisted up a three-pointer with no hesitation whatsoever, perhaps to the surprise of Shane Battier, who gave Nelson a little too much airspace to put up a shot. That jumper gave Orlando the lead momentarily at 94-91 before Dwyane Wade responded with a three-point shot of his own.
Then in overtime, Nelson broke down Miami defensively not once but twice in pick-and-rolls, splitting two defenders and making a layup on both occasions in spectacular fashion. The second of his two layups was more impressive than the first, given that he split LeBron James and Udonis Haslem off the dribble at the top of the key, then maneuvered around Chris Bosh at the rim for a layup that had the right amount of spin off the glass to go in. Nelson’s layup put the Magic up by the score of 102-96 with 55.3 seconds left in overtime, beginning the process of closing the door on the game before Redick slammed it shut with two free-throws to ice it.
Yes, Dwight Howard was special, putting up 24 points, 25 rebounds, three steals, and two blocks, his 40th 20-20 game of his career and eighth this season. Yes, J.J. Redick had another eye-popping plus/minus (+26) for a second straight game.
But this was Nelson’s night to shine.
MVP (Most Valuable Player)
Nelson was the difference-maker. Dwight was the best player on the floor and that’s taking into account Wade, LeBron James, and Chris Bosh each putting up numbers against Orlando, with Wade delivering in the clutch in the fourth quarter.
Up 102-98, Dwight missed four free-throws with a chance to seal the game in overtime. For whatever reason, with the Heat down four points on each possession, LeBron and Wade shot (and missed) three-pointers. Why?
The Magic were down by as many as 14 points in the game, yet never gave up. Led by Nelson in the second half and overtime, Orlando traded haymakers with Miami and came out victorious.
That Game Was … a Classic
It remains to be seen whether or not this was Dwight’s last home game in a Magic uniform. No matter what, you can add this volume to the collection of classic games between the Magic and Heat.