All this week Orlando Magic Daily will be taking a look at the things that went right and wrong this season as Orlando fell short of a second straight trip to the NBA Finals and the franchise’s first NBA title.
Dwight Howard got the ball in the low post as he had done millions of times before during the season. It was when Paul Pierce fouled Howard hard and sent him to the floor. That is when Matt Barnes sprung into action.
Barnes got right into Pierce’s nose and let him know no one would touch his center again.
Howard went on to score 19 points, grab 10 rebounds and block four shots as he finally broke the spell the Celtics defense had over him. The game did not end until Rashard Lewis drove past a limping and seemingly old Kevin Garnett for a buzzer-beating lay up to give the Magic a win.
That moment from Barnes though spawned a revolution in Magic thinking.
Orlando was no longer some soft team that just jacked up 3-pointers. When the team was rolling, it could be a mean, ugly defensive team that could make life miserable for an offense. It spawned the Matt Barnes will Kill You T-Shirt. Barnes was the face of this new toughness.
He decked Derek Fisher in a game against the Lakers, started a fight as the Magic struggled against the Grizzlies. He was the spark for Orlando’s feistiness in a season where the team was the favorite for a change.
Barnes added something to the team that the Magic have not had ever. His energy was infectious to both positive and negative ends.
Dwight Howard was his usual dominant self keeping anyone from cavorting down the lane. He also took a beating throughout the season with all the fouling. He got into it with referees a little too much (eventually leading the league in technical fouls), but when he kept his head down and continued to play he was dominant. Look at the defensive job he did in the series against Charlotte in limited minutes. He was an enforcer discouraging the Bobcats from going anywhere near the rim.
The Magic were not pushovers all season and every team knew they would be in for a war every time they went into Amway Arena, whether it was Howard’s protection of the rim or Barnes’ emotional energy and willingness to fight for everything.
Orlando is a laid back team. There are not a lot of enforcers. So to be talking about anything like this with this team has to be something amazing. Stan Van Gundy again did a great job turning mediocre individual defenders and Dwight Howard into a cohesive and strong defensive team. It was refreshing to see Orlando with a mean streak. Something the team will need next year if it wants to win a title.