ORLANDO — Jameer Nelson was assisting everybody on Wednesday night. The team captain and point guard known mostly for his scoring ability is often criticized for his inability to get others involved.
Nelson was proving everyone wrong, exploiting the weakness in Miami’s lineup. Nelson had a career-high 14 assists and nearly added an unintentional assist when he was ejected with 36 seconds. But as he urged the already frenzied crowd to get louder to help Orlando complete a win over its archrival from South Florida.
Marcin Gortat calmly sank two free throws as the Magic completed a 12-3 run to break a tie late in the fourth quarter. It was more than enough as Orlando defeated Miami 104-95.
Nelson was there at the beginning and the end. Seven of his 14 assists came in the first quarter and he had 10 by halftime. Nelson abused his former understudy Carlos Arroyo using the pick and roll to find Dwight Howard and Brandon Bass for easy shots throughout the night. He was the catalyst and took control of the game.
“He’s a tank,” Rashard Lewis said. “He’s getting into the defense. And if you don’t pick him up, he’s going to score. He getting guys involved in the offense and getting himself involved. If he didn’t get kicked out, he probably would have had more assists.”
The 8-0 run that broke an 89-all tie really showed the difference between the matchup in late October and tonight.
Miami erased an 8-point fourth-quarter deficit withing about three minutes and appeared to have Orlando on the ropes. But Nelson stepped up and was the leader the team expects from its captained. He drained a 15-foot jumper to break the tie, hit a driving layup over LeBron James and tipped away an alley-oop pass from James during the tell-tale run.
His final assist of the game, was critical too. He found JJ Redick for a long jumper and then Nelson finished it off with a jumper of his own.
Nelson scored 11 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter, matching his great passing game with a great scoring one. Really just filling his role for the team.
Stan Van Gundy said he saw very little to complain about in Nelson’s game. five turnovers and the ejection were about it. What impressed him more was how Orlando finished off this win.
“I thought we did a great job finishing the game out,” Van Gundy said. “We have to fight very very hard. Obviously they have an unbelievable amount of talent. I thought we fought pretty hard.
“I thought our ball movement and our energy offensively was the best it has been all year. I thought we were always on the move and we didn’t let them settle in as much defensively and I thought that was key.”
The ball movement was pretty incredible. Nelson was the initiation and his assist numbers were staggering. But how about the final numbers? Orlando had 24 assists on 36 field goal attempts and 17 assists on 20 field goals in the first half. That is a sign that the ball is moving the way Van Gundy wants to. There were a few possessions where the ball whipped out of the post from Dwight Howard all the way around to get an open jumper or driving lane.
It was a critical difference between this game and the previous meeting with the Heat.
And this came because the Magic were looking to get Dwight Howard involved in other ways. He did not simply post up and work as the other four players on the court watched. Rather, Orlando looked to get him involved in pick and roll and he was rolling into open space a lot of the time. Howard finished with 24 points and 18 rebounds.
More surprisingly was JJ Redick’s performance stepping in for Vince Carter. He did more than score 20 points, he also had five assists and did a good job keeping Dwyane Wade away from the basket (OK, that might have been more Wade’s choosing than his). Brandon Bass also stepped up scoring 16 first-half points and the first 18 points for the bench.
What those two guys did though was seemingly hit a big shot the moment their team needed it. Orlando had an answer to every run. Really the only time the Magic struggled was when the team settled for jumpers rather than attacking the basket.
Miami is a good enough team to keep the game close and made Orlando sweat it out when the team went into hiding offensively in the middle of the fourth quarter. But the Magic had an answer. And Redick was often on the other end.
“They’re really good,” Redick said. “They were going to make a run eventually. We talked about just the fact that we worked so hard that we deserve to win that game, but that we built a lead to let it completely slip away. We were able to make big plays.”
In this game, the team stepped up and made the plays necessary to get a big win against a good team (even if that team is struggling right now).