When the fourth quarter began Monday, Charlotte had played another solid game. The Bobcats had once again taken Dwight Howard out of the game with fouls. They had attacked the basket and shot a good percentage. They even had survived the Magic’s 3-point barrage to trail by just three points entering the fourth quarter.
Just like in Game Three, Game Four would be decided by execution and which team could get key stops. This has not been the Bobcats forte. It cost them Game Three when they settled for jumpers and could not score enough after Dwight Howard fouled out.
Offense again cost Charlotte a chance at a playoff victory, and this time there would be no next game to make up for it.
Orlando started the fourth quarter with a 71-68 lead. By the nine minute timeout, the Magic had two threes from Mickael Pietrus and some scoring from a refreshingly aggressive Vince Carter to extend the lead to seven at 83-76.
Charlotte did not score a field goal for about eight minutes in the third quarter, getting only nine points from the free throw line in that time. This gave Orlando all the time it needed to extend its lead into double digits and oust Charlotte from its first postseason with a 99-90 win on Monday.
This game followed the pattern of just about every game. Defense reigned and it came down to offensive execution. The Bobcats did that better than they have perhaps all series. They got to the basket and moved the ball very well.
But even then it was not enough. Something clicked somewhat offensive for Orlando, and Charlotte could never distance itself enough while the team had the lead.
The Bobcats had an amazing 27 assists on 32 field goals and shot 45.1 percent from the floor. The defense was suffocating at times, giving up 41.8 percent field goal shooting. Typically those are numbers good enough for this team to win because they defend so well.
Charlotte’s Achilles heel has been turnovers. The team committed only 10, but long scoring droughts compounded with lots of fouls and Orlando’s 3-point shooting became the team’s undoing. The Magic hit on 13 of 33 3-pointers — including Rashard Lewis’ four for seven effort — and got to the line 42 times, hitting 30.
Orlando simply had too much offense for Charlotte to handle, and even with Orlando struggling to shoot at times, it was enough.
Lewis was the generator early, getting good looks at 3-pointers from post plays involving Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson driving into the lane. Nelson, coming off his second 32-point game of the series, was blanketed by Raymond Felton and the Bobcats’ interior defenders. But he did a good job looking to dish the ball when he was cut off, finishing with 18 points and four assists. Lewis finished with 17 on the night.
Charlotte gave everything it had tonight. Raymond Felton and Gerald Wallace were on the attack and did a good job challenging Howard and forcing him to make some tough decisions with foul trouble (and he mostly made the wrong one). Wallace had 17 and Felton had 11 points and six assists.
The Bobcats even got their third scorer with Boris Diaw pouring in 13 points and Tyrus Thomas coming off the bench and outhustling the Magic for a team-high 21 points. Thomas took advantage of Marcin Gortat doubling Stephen Jackson in the post to get his jumper going and wreaked havoc with his ability to put the ball on the floor. Larry Brown used him at center with Howard out of the game and it finally worked.
Unfortunately, it seemed Stephen Jackson got worse as the series went on. And he had his worst game tonight. Jackson did have eight assists and did his part there, but hit just two of his 11 shots. Jackson is probably the only player on the team that can create his own offense and with Jackson ineffective offensively, the Bobcats had plenty of stretches where they struggled to score.
Nothing new in this series.
What was new was that Charlotte played from the lead in this game, taking the team’s first lead after the first quarter and holding a slim margin at the half. The difference between a team with an offense initiator became very evident once Vince Carter took over.
Carter’s struggles in this series have been odd. He has come up with big shots in just about every game of the series, yet he had not hit a 3-pointer in the series to that point.
Carter has been most successful when he tries to get to the basket. He finally started doing that in the third quarter and got into a good rhythm offensively. He had a few shots that just made you shake your head. It looked like he had that “I am going to take over” glimmer in his eye. Carter scored 21 on 7-of-16 shooting and did a lot of the offensive work in the third quarter, carrying the Magic into a lead they would not concede.
He was the guy initiating offense for the rest of the game and converting for the most part.
Charlotte did more than put up a fight in this series. With one more offensive player, the Bobcats could have certainly done more with the success they had defending Dwight Howard and Vince Carter. But the Magic were too good and had too many weapons.
Howard was almost a non-factor on offense again, playing a series-low 23 minutes tonight because of foul trouble (five of which were of his own doing and bad choices defensively). He still grabbed 13 rebounds and affected the game defensively.
Even with that, Orlando got a well-earned sweep and proved winning does not have to be pretty. Now the team has almost a week to await the winner of Atlanta and Milwaukee.