Some nights the shots fall. And they keep falling. And for both teams they are falling. There is very little defense can do on these nights. So when it comes to who misses a shot sometimes you have to throw your arms up and say let ‘em fly.
That is likely what Mickael Pietrus was thinking with Orlando down by two and almost a minute to play. Pietrus had nailed three 3-pointers and the Magic and Spurs combined to hit the first seven 3-pointers in the quarter.
Wait, the Magic and the Spurs struggling to defend?
Something was not right this Monday night. And it was certainly strange that Pietrus became the first player to miss on a 3-pointer in the fourth quarter (this after he blocked a Tony Parker lay up on the other end), perhaps missing a wide open Dwight Howard underneath the basket to tie the game.
Parker came back and found Duncan for an awkward leaning tip in. Then Manu Ginobili came back and tortured the Magic as he normally does. He beat Pietrus off the dribble and hit a floater over Howard with Pietrus fouling him from behind. What could have been a tie game became a seven-point game pretty quickly. And a night of offense came down to a pretty big breakdown defensively.
The Spurs went on a 10-0 run to close the game and win their 11th consecutive game with a 106-97 win over the Magic.
Orlando continues to be an inconsistent mess. The offense awoke as Rashard Lewis and JJ Redick appear out of whatever slump was keeping them down. But the defense again showed troubling inconsistencies.
Stan Van Gundy commented on the team’s struggles closing out on shooters. That failure was an understatement. San Antonio was simply draining 3-pointers and there was nothing Orlando could do about it. The Spurs hit 12 of 19 3-pointers. You don’t need advanced stats to know how efficient that was. And except for the third quarter, San Antonio was hitting the long shot with alarming regularity.
Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili were the catalysts, getting past the first level of defense and pushing the ball into the paint for kick outs and good looks. Ginobili scored 25 points and had nine assists. Parker had 24 and 10 assists. Those stats pretty much tell you exactly how San Antonio tried to get its points.
For a team coming in with one of the top-rated defenses, Orlando struggled to contain San Antonio and its newfound speed game — Parker and Ginobili beat the defense down the floor a few times. To look at the numbers (according to the Advanced Stats Calculator) shows how much Orlando’s defense was out of sorts tonight. The Spurs posted a 113.6 offensive rating and shot a 57.1 percent effective field goal percentage.
I mean, Matt Bonner scored 15 points and hit all four of his 3-pointers.
It might have been a mini-miracle that Orlando’s offense woke up and did its part to keep the Magic in the game.
Dwight Howard’s gargantuan performance deserves plenty of mention. He scored 26 points and grabbed 18 rebounds, hitting 11 of 16 shots and four of seven free throws. Howard got what he wanted for the most part against Tim Duncan and Antonio McDyess. There were no jumpers tonight, he was looking to attack the basket. And more importantly he was looking to keep the Spurs from the basket.
Lewis had it going early too 14 points. Redick broke free to score nine of his 11 points (albeit on 5-of-11 shooting) in the first half. Jameer Nelson also did a good job in scoring 15 points and five assists. Except for Vince Carter going down to a knee injury just as he appeared to be getting aggressive — both of his field goals came on highlight-producing drives to the basket.
When the Magic came down the stretch though, the failure to execute became painfully apparent.
After Duncan made it a four-point game, Nelson did a masterful job dribbling into the paint and through defenders trying to find either an opportunity to score or someone to pass to. Finding neither, he continued to dribble around taking off time and leading to more panic. Nelson ended up turning the ball over — one of 16 Orlando had on the night — and the Magic’s hopes really ended when Ginobili made his three-point play.
Howard played nearly 41 minutes and, because he was making such an impact on offense and defense, remained in the game when he typically gets a breather. Howard had only three shots in the fourth quarter (and the last was an uncontested dunk with the outcome more or less decided). For someone on such an offensive role and playing because he clearly had the hot hand, it was puzzling not to see him get the ball. Some of it was Van Gundy’s play calling. Some of it was Howard not making himself a bigger offensive presence and demanding the ball from his guards.
It is one of the many things Orlando has to work on coming out of this game. Don’t get me wrong, the Magic played a fantastic game and put themselves exactly where they want to be — in a position to win. But coming up short is disappointing. The execution at the end was severely lacking. And that is sure to haunt everyone.
What should be more haunting is another uneven defensive performance. Van Gundy admitted that perhaps his team has not worked on closing out on 3-point shooters as much as they usually did. But that is not the only problem. He also pointed to the team’s struggles keeping San Antonio out of the paint.
These are the games Orlando has got to win to take the title. Lesson learned, I guess.