Mickael Pietrus always seems to show up when his team needs him. Pietrus is the sixth man everything for the Magic, providing a spark and another superb defender to throw at an opponent’s best player. JJ Redick needed a career best performance to hide his absence in Sunday’s win over the Nuggets.
But with three days off to recover from his sprained ankle, Pietrus made sure to show up when his team needed him most.
The first half of Thursday’s game, Orlando needed Pietrus to carry them offensively. In the second half, after securing a comfortable lead behind Jameer Nelson and Vince Carter, the Magic needed Pietrus to hit the killer 3-pointers that would ensure victory.
Pietrus hit on all six of his 3-point attempts and scored 24 points — all at critical times for the Magic — to lead the Magic to a 97-82 victory over the Mavericks, their second seed counterparts, in Dallas on Thursday.
The first half was not a thing of beauty, but it was Pietrus who was the only one attacking the basket. Outside of Dwight Howard, there was very little going to the basket. Pietrus seemed to be the only guy who was able to hit a shot during a stand still second quarter (25-20 in the second quarter after an 18-16 first quarter). His play helped Orlando take a 43-36 lead at the half.
Dallas fell down by as much as 18 points in the second half and seemed lazily going to the end of the game. A late spark from Jose Barea and Jason Terry helped the Mavericks cut the lead to nine with about two minutes to go.
But the Magic worked their inside out game to get Pietrus two open looks for three that sealed the game and ended any hopes for a comeback. Pietrus’ late shots wrapped up a victory for Orlando.
What got them there was a steady diet of Jameer Nelson and Vince Carter.
The first half, as mentioned, was nowhere near a thing of beauty — a classic defensive performance from Dwight Howard deterred Dallas from attacking the basket itself (Howard gets his own section later for his 17-point, 20-rebound, five-block performance). But because of shooting eight of 13 from beyond the arc, much of it coming from Pietrus, Orlando had a seven-point lead.
But Jameer Nelson took over coming out of the locker room. The conservative and sometimes apprehensive approach Orlando took to attacking the basket was replaced with Nelson probing through the defense from Dwight Howard screens (again, Howard had 17 points, 20 rebounds and five blocks tonight). Nelson then started making his shots, becoming the first player other than Pietrus and Howard to make his shots.
Nelson finished with 14 points and seven assists.
And his good play and aggression soon spread to Vince Carter. Carter was really struggling tonight until something clicked when Jason Kidd was assigned to him.
Carter too started attacking the basket to get things going offensively and then followed it with finding his shooting stroke. Vince finished with 19 points and seven rebounds.
Nelson and Carter worked well together to help the Magic build as much as an 18-point lead. But as always, there was only one constant in this game.
Nothing else needs to be said about Dwight Howard. The Magic launched his MVP candidacy Web site today (Dwight4MVP.com) and he certainly backed up the effort.
He affected everything Dallas tried to do in attacking the basket. He grabbed a layup out of Jason Terry’s hands rather than swatting it into the third row or off the backboard. It was the type of play Howard was having. He tended to roam a bit too much, leading to 10 Dallas offensive rebounds.
But the results speak for themselves.
Dallas shot 38 percent for the game, barely got above 80 points and shot four of 14 from beyond the arc. Orlando is a great team defense. Howard had a big effect on everything — as he always does.
Again: 17 points, 24 rebounds, five blocks, six for 11 field goals, five for eight free throws. And no fouls. Remember that, no fouls.
Howard was pretty good offensively, especially early to pace the Magic to an early lead. But he was super stellar on defense tonight.
Dirk Nowitzki was really the only player to get going with 24 points. But he is pretty much undefendable and he shot nine of 22 to get there. So not even that seemed to hurt the Magic tonight.
Even when Terry or Jason Kidd attacked the basket, Howard was there to change their shots. Nowitzki did not even try unless Howard was far away from the rim.
If there was ever a game that would show the true effect Howard has on defense, this was it. Orlando is pretty difficult to beat when Howard is deterring any approach to the pain like he did tonight. Even though the Magic’s offense was slow to show up, it came eventually and provided all the firepower they would need for an impressive victory.