JJ Redick completed the rarest of the rare. A five-point play. J.R. Smith fouled Redick as he hit one of his six 3-pointers on the night, was fouled and sank the technical free throw. That is the type of play that oftentimes turns games around and gets to the rest of the team.
In fact, Redick’s play on offense all around is usually the type of effort that spreads to the rest of the team and energizes them. Redick scored 29 points, hitting nine of his 18 shots and adding four rebounds. Tonight, it was the only bright spot.
And Stan Van Gundy was having none of it.
No bright spots, not hot shooting, no Dwight Howard blocking shots into the 25th row, no Vince Carter fade-away, no Redick sweet shooting could make this effort look any better in Van Gundy’s eyes. And he flatly said what needed to be said to the press assembled at the Pepsi Center and I am sure he had more choice words for the team after the game ended. There may not be a better way to say it than Van Gundy did.
The effort defensively was nonexistent and until then, as Van Gundy said, this team is not very good. The offense hung tough and stayed on pace with Denver on the road for three quarters. A 32-16 deluge in the fourth quarter gave the Nuggets a 111-94 win at Pepsi Center on Tuesday, closing out a disappointing West Coast road trip at 1-3.
The Magic have lost five of the last six games and they have all pretty much followed the same formula. As Stan Van Gundy pointed out, the team plays well early in the game, starts losing it in the second and gets blown out in the second half. This followed the same formula.
The Nuggets continually found ways to find mismatches — especially with Carmelo Anthony and Al Harrington — and J.R. Smith and Arron Afflalo got hot to just constantly put pressure on a defense that lacked energy and determination to get stops.
Sure there was a six-minute stretch at the beginning of the third quarter and end of the second where Orlando turned around an eight-point deficit and took the lead. But the stops just were not coming.
Anthony finished with 35 points, missing only seven of his 21 field goal attempts. Harrington hit four of his 10 3-point attempts to score 12 points. All four of his 3-pointers seemed uncontested and while Dwight Howard was guarding him. It was a sign of the poor rotations and, perhaps, the over-compensation for covering Carmelo Anthony (both Quentin Richardson and Mickael Pietrus missed the games with injuries). But it did not excuse a team that was seemed unwilling to dig in deep and get a stop.
Denver shot 53.8 percent from the floor and hit 11 of 26 3-pointers. J.R. Smith had 16 points and Afflalo had 15 as the Nuggets not only got in the paint, but also hit shots at an incredible rate. A 120.7 offensive efficiency and a 60.7% effective field goal percentage are signs of both good offense and bad defense.
This does not look like the team that had the top-rated defense in the league the last two seasons.
So it did not really matter what happened offensively. Sure, the Magic kept pace and did a decent job offensively. Orlando had a 102.2 offensive efficiency and 50.0 percent effective field goal percentage. The Magic’s field goal percentage dipped to 43.6 percent shooting and hit only 10 of 27 3-pointers. A lot of those 3-pointers were coming up short whether it was fatigue (excuse) or frustration (another excuse) or whatever (yet another excuse). The execution was there tonight as frustration over the referees or whatever it was set in.
Nene was manhandling Dwight Howard down low, as Howard could not get into a rhythm to try and pace the Magic and calm the pace down. The game took on a frenetic pace in the fourth quarter and that played right into Denver’s hands.
Orlando, usually so good at controlling pace and staying under control when it is not playing well, simply couldn’t. While you do not want to say the team quit, the necessary effort was not there. And it has not been there for 48 minutes in a single game for the last two weeks (really since the game in Detroit a few weeks ago).
Van Gundy and Co. have a lot of work to do before they retake the floor Saturday.