Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
Heading into Game 1, not many people within the mainstream media and blogosphere were giving the Orlando Magic a chance in their first round playoff series against the Indiana Pacers. Pacers in 5 games seemed to be the most common prediction out there. Head coach Stan Van Gundy noted as much before the game.
And it made sense. Excluding their games against the New York Knicks on April 5 and Philadelphia 76ers on April 7 (in which Dwight Howard played), the Magic went 4-8 without Dwight in the lineup. Defense, to no one’s surprise, became a major issue for Orlando. At the start of April, the Magic ranked 10th in Defensive Rating, allowing 102.5 points per 100 possessions each game. By the end of the regular season, Orlando was allowing 104.1 points per 100 possessions each game (ranking 12th in the NBA).
Quite a jump in the numbers in a month’s time.
With little to no interior presence defensively, opposing teams scored over, under, around, and through the Magic. In April (excluding the Knicks and Sixers games), Orlando’s opponent field goal percentage was 49.7 percent. To put that number in perspective, the Sacramento Kings’ opponent field goal percentage was 47.6 this season (ranked dead last in the league).
That’s what contributed most to Orlando’s slide down the standings.
So with the Pacers ranked 7th in Offensive Rating this season, it’s understandable that many people would predict a lopsided series (it still could happen). Who would stop Roy Hibbert? Who would stop Danny Granger? Who would stop David West?
Turns out the Magic, as a team, could — excluding West, who had 19 points on 8-for-14 shooting from the floor.
With all the talk about Orlando’s defense, it wasn’t an issue in Game 1 against Indiana. For the game, the Pacers shot 34.5 percent from the floor. That was a difference in the ballgame for the Magic and one of the primary reasons why they stole a game on the road against Indiana.
That and also the fact that the Pacers could not shut the door on Orlando when they were up 77-70 with 4:05 left in the fourth quarter. Instead, the Magic went on an 11-0 run to end the game, partly due to Indiana shooting themselves in the foot time and again. Two wide open three-pointers missed by Paul George. Two missed free-throws, a missed layup, and a traveling violation by Danny Granger. Failed late game execution — why is Darren Collison taking a long two in isolation down 80-77 with 13.8 seconds left in the game?
And also Jason Richardson.
Yes, Richardson’s 4-year, $25 million contract is an eye-sore because he’s an aging wing player with declining athleticism at the age of 31. But he earned his keep in Game 1 by making two three-point shots in crunch time that fueled Orlando’s sprint to the finish line.
Throughout his career, Richardson has proven time and again in the playoffs that he’s not afraid of the big moment. Thanks to some clutch shooting from Richardson, the Pacers found that out for themselves.
MVP (Most Valuable Player)
“J-Rich” was big, no doubt about it. But it was Jameer Nelson’s ability to break down Indiana’s defense (mostly in the first half) in pick-and-roll sets that put the Magic in a position to win Game 1.
When he wants to be, Earl Clark can be an impact player defensively. And he was, as his defense was a game-changer. Clark is lucky that his two missed free-throws in crunch time didn’t come back to haunt him.
With 10.3 seconds left in the game and down 80-77 with possession of the basketball, needing a three-pointer to tie, Danny Granger had the ball at the top of the key and he traveled. Then this happened.
That Was … Surprising?
There was a general sense during the game that Indiana was expecting Orlando to roll over. You got that vibe from the crowd at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, too. Instead, the Pacers found themselves in a fight and lost.