If the Orlando Magic had it their way, they would be in Orlando right now preparing for Game 6 of their first round playoff series against the Indiana Pacers. The game would have been on Friday at Amway Center.
Instead, the Magic’s season is over, but not before they put up a valiant effort — as they did all series long — in their series-clinching loss to the Pacers in Game 5. For 40 minutes, Orlando fought tooth and nail on the road before Indiana’s talent and depth took over in the last eight minutes of the game. And leading the fight was the Magic’s captain and starting point guard — Jameer Nelson.
After scoring 10 points in the first half on 4-for-6 shooting from the floor (2-for-2 from three-point range), Nelson put together a vintage performance in the third quarter with Orlando staring down elimination. Showing off an aggressiveness and fearlessness offensively, Nelson picked apart the Pacers’ defense in pick-and-roll sets.
Nelson’s stat line in the third quarter: 15 points on 6-for-10 shooting from the floor (3-for-4 from three-point range) in 12 minutes. For the game, he had 27 points on 11-for-21 shooting from the floor (5-for-8 from three-point range), 5 assists, and 4 rebounds in roughly 39 minutes of playing time.
The scouting report on Nelson is simple. When he’s aggressive and efficient in pick-and-rolls and actively looking for his shot, he transforms into an All-Star caliber player and one of the best pick-and-roll point guards in the NBA. 2009 will forever serve as an example of Nelson at his very best.
That player showed up at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Tuesday.
In the third quarter, Nelson got himself going in pick-and-rolls and the Magic kept drawing from that well.
On this possession, Orlando ran a 1/4 pick-and-roll with Nelson and Ryan Anderson that generated a three-pointer for Nelson through his own ingenuity and savvy.
Usually on plays like this, Glen Davis will enter the equation and set another screen, thus making it a staggered pick-and-roll since there are two screens being set by Anderson and Davis. But on this particular play, Nelson doesn’t bother with the second screen. Anderson sets the pick, George Hill fights through the screen, and David West shows. Hibbert originally accounts for Davis on the right elbow but as Anderson rolls to the basket, Hibbert picks him up on defense. That leaves West to rotate over to Davis defensively, given that he’s open on the right elbow.
But Nelson does something very subtle as this is all unfolding. He fakes an entry pass to Anderson and Hill bites on the fake, giving Nelson a clear look at a three-point shot (it’s unclear whether Hill is helping on Anderson knowing Hibbert is behind him or if he’s unaware of the help). In that split-second, he hoists up a three-pointer and drills it.
Throughout his career with the Magic, Nelson has made a ton of layups in pick-and-roll sets. Usually Dwight Howard sets the screen, Nelson dribble penetrates into the lane and makes a mad dash to the rim while an opposing defense tries to account for Dwight rolling to the basket as well as Orlando’s three-point shooters on the perimeter. With an opponent being spread thin defensively due to the Magic’s excellent spacing on offense, Nelson typically gets a clear path to the rim for a layup.
Unfortunately for Orlando, with Dwight out, Nelson’s forays to the rim get a bit more difficult. And against Indiana, with Roy Hibbert roaming the paint, the degree of difficulty for Nelson gets even higher. Which means that the Magic have to get a little creative in generating a clear path to the rim for Nelson.
This possession is a perfect example.
The play begins with the ball in Redick’s hands on the right wing. Anderson sets a screen, then rolls to the basket. As he does that, Davis sets a back pick on West, forcing a switch and making Hibbert pick up Anderson on defense. As all of this is unfolding, Redick gives the basketball to Nelson. Everything that occurs prior to Nelson getting the ball serves as a precursor to what comes next.
With Anderson now in the left corner spotting up on the perimeter and Hibbert accounting for him defensively, Orlando has created that clear path to the lane for Nelson to get a layup. And he does so, as he executes a 1/5 pick-and-roll with Davis, gets a step on Hill (who went under Davis’ screen) and West (who sagged off of Davis), and makes the layup. Because Hibbert is defending Anderson on the perimeter, he’s too late to rotate over and provide weak-side help.
Out of all the plays the Magic ran against Indiana in their first round matchup, this is one of the more creative ones to be sure.
It remains to be seen whether or not that was Nelson’s last vintage performance in a Orlando uniform. He has a player option for the 2012-2013 NBA season worth $8.6 million according to ShamSports, which is the final year of his contract, that he can choose to exercise. Or he can become an unrestricted free agent during the offseason if he chooses to opt out.
Much like the clock is ticking on Dwight’s future with the Magic, so is Nelson’s. At the very least, he can say he finished off this season with a bang.