Everyone knew defense would be the word entering this series with Charlotte. The Magic and Bobcats held themselves up to their reputations with Sunday’s 98-89 slugfest that featured lots of blocks, lots of fouls, lots of bodies diving on the floor and very little offensive displays (at least after Jameer Nelson cooled off at halftime).
With a game under our belts now, it is becoming clearer how these two teams will play each other in the first round.
The difference between the first half and the second half was all about how effective drives to the basket were. In the first half, Dwight Howard protected the rim and kept Charlotte from doing anything in the paint while Jameer Nelson and Rashard Lewis were able to get in the paint and score on mid-range jumpers or layups. In the second half, the Bobcats kept the Magic on the perimeter and attacked Howard harder, drawing three fouls and making him almost a non-factor defensively.
With such hard-nosed players like Stephen Jackson and Gerald Wallace as the focal point of its offense, it should have been no surprise Charlotte continued to attack the basket as the team did even with Howard roaming free in the paint and blocking shots with relative ease.
What is more impressive is the Bobcats are not a team that takes it to the basket that often. According to HoopData.com, they averaged only 7.0 field goal attempts within 10 feet this season and shot just 40.7 percent from close range. That was fifth lowest in the league and second lowest among playoff teams.
Charlotte made up for this with a 34.6 free throw rate during the season, second in the league.
It appears Game One made perfect sense with how the Bobcats played during the regular season. They struggled to get around Howard and he had his way denying their drivers. But Charlotte also did a great job getting to the line hitting on 20 of 28 free throw attempts and had a 39.4 free throw rate. Well above the team’s season average.
If there was one thing the Bobcats did well Sunday it was get to the basket and draw fouls. Part of that was poor individual defense by Orlando’s perimeter players. Part of it was Dwight Howard’s foul trouble. I think these numbers show part of it was definitely Charlotte’s ability and desire to attack the rim at all costs.
The raw numbers: the Bobcats outscored the Magic 38-26 in the paint. With Howard in the paint, this is a stat that must change as the series progresses.
As the first half showed though, Orlando can be equally effective when attacking the basket. According to HoopData.com was sixth in the league, shooting 46.5 percent from 10 feet and closer on 8.3 attempts per game. It is safe to assume most of those came from Howard.
In Sunday’s game what made Orlando effective in the first half was getting in the paint. What saved them in the second half was getting in the paint. Think about it, the only times the Magic really were successful in the second half were when Nelson got inside, JJ Redick drove in and Vince Carter’s awkward floater.
Orlando was attacking feverishly in the first half. It is difficult to remember Charlotte did not have a free throw in the first quarter and Orlando surpassed its own regular season mark for free throw rate. The Magic went to the line 27 times Sunday for a 36.5 free throw rate (the season average was 34.0, fourth in the league). Again, safe to assume a bunch of that is Howard.
But the numbers show — as does what I saw in the game — the team that is more aggressively attacking the basket is going to win the game and the series.