There are many perceptions surrounding Vince Carter.
He settles for too many jumpers. He does not hustle. He does not come through in the clutch. Orlando heard all of them through his up and down season. And everyone was unsure of whether he could adequately replace Hedo Turkoglu in the lineup. The trick was that those watching the Magic would not be able to evaluate Carter and his impact until the postseason.
Through two playoff games, it is still difficult to make a call. But things have to be relatively encouraging.
To answer your questions: Carter made a concerted effort to attack the basket in scoring 19 points on 5-of-10 shooting and 9-of-11 shooting from the free throw line. Carter dove on the floor to save a loose ball beneath Charlotte’s basket late in the fourth quarter as Orlando’s lead once again evaporated from 22 points downs to eight.
And it was Carter who executed and led the Magic, bringing the ball up the court throughout the fourth quarter, in their 92-77 Game Two victory over the Bobcats on Wednesday at Amway Arena.
The defense will be the main story, but in a game that features the top two defensive teams in the league it is the offense that stands out. It was Carter bouncing back from a very poor performance in Game One and dominating the third and fourth quarters with his presence offensively after Dwight Howard went to the bench with his fourth foul early in the period.
Carter and Jameer Nelson ran the pick and roll to perfection as Charlotte continued to elect to switch on every perimeter screen. This gave Carter post ups on Raymond Felton which he took full advantage of. Carter should be getting to the line 10-plus times per game. Hopefully this becomes the norm rather than the exception.
With Carter attacking, everything began to slowly open up for Orlando offensively. The third quarter was where the Magic opened their lead up from around 10 points to 20 points. Carter and Dwight Howard had a lot to do with this transformation.
Howard, after struggling with fouls and the Bobcats’ defensive schemes, bounced back after struggling with the same problems in the first half. He scored nine of his 15 points in the beginning of the third quarter. He was aggressive attacking the basket and working his way into the paint and establishing post position. It was a shame he was called for an over the back foul for his fourth foul of the game in the third quarter, he looked like he was getting angry and getting ready to take over the game offensively as he had already done defensively.
Howard played only 28:32 in this game, but he was the focus offensively from the very beginning. Orlando made it a point to get the ball to him and he delivered early with some nice passes out of the double team and drawing quick fouls on Theo Ratliff and Nazr Mohammed. He only shot 5 of 12 from the line, so the fouling strategy still paid off for Charlotte.
But with Howard out, Orlando still found a way to extend its lead — something the team could not do and struggled mightily with in Game One. Carter had a lot to do with that. But so did Jameer Nelson and Rashard Lewis.
After a few times of Carter burning Felton in the post, the Bobcats changed their defensive tactic and did not switch the Carter/Nelson screen and roll. Nelson struggled from the floor, going 4 of 11, but his 13 points and five assists all became crucial as the Magic pulled away.
Rashard Lewis (13 points) and Mickael Pietrus (nine points on three 3-pointers) were the beneficiaries of all this.
When it came down to it, the Magic simply had too much offense for the Bobcats. Defense was once again the main player in this game. Neither team allowed anything easy. Charlotte had just 30 points at halftime and trailed by only 11.
In other words, defense goes without saying in this series.
The Magic shot 45.3 percent from the floor and the Bobcats shot 43.9 percent. The difference came in two areas: 3-point shooting and free throw shooting.
Orlando will clearly have the advantage in 3-point shooting whenever these two teams meet. The Magic made 10 3-pointers and the Bobcats hit on six. That is 12 points in a game where every point was hard to come by.
Winning the free throw battle will be the goal for both teams throughout this series. Charlotte won it in Game One and still lost, but the team had a much better shot at winning that game than tonight. Orlando hit on 24 of 35 free throws (with Howard missing seven of the 11 team misses). The 11 misses aside, getting to the line 35 times is quite a feat for a team so in love with the 3-pointer. On the other end, Charlotte did not parade to the line like it did in Game One and got only 18 attempts, making 13.
It tells me the Magic learned from Game One and realized the only way to open up offense in this series will be to get in the paint and force the Bobcats to foul. Defensively it tells me Orlando challenged shots much more smarter and rotated well. There were very few moments in this game when the Magic’s defense was not sharp and completely in sync.
Charlotte is a team that will keep fighting no matter the score. It is not surprising to see a team like that cut a 20-point lead in half and make things interesting if not close. But it is also pretty clear that in this series, the Bobcats do not have the offensive firepower to stay with the Magic.
Their defense is very good and frustrates Orlando plenty. But there are still plenty of moments where the Magic’s offense just works — like when they scored 34 points in the third quarter mostly without Howard.
And bad news for Charlotte, it seems like Dwight Howard and Vince Carter have found their rhythm and ability to attack Charlotte’s defense.