It would have been hard for any player to pass up the kind of driving lanes Sacramento was giving off the high pick and roll. Still, on a night wehre the offense was frustrated throughout the night and fouls were abundant on the defensive end, execution would be key. Orlando failed to execute two weeks ago at home against this very same Sacramento team. Rarely does the NBA give you a second chance.
Jameer Nelson took advantage of that second chance. He scored 12 points in the fourth quarter and 18 in the second half. It was a bright spot during a frustrating evening that saw little defensive effort, a parade to the free throw line and a struggle to overtake the Kings. The Magic finally started caring a little defensively, cut out the fouls and took and held on to the lead. It was not the prettiest win, but a 106-102 victory is as good as any to start a West Coast road trip.
Really this game simply came down to who could execute at the end. It seemed neither team wanted to.
Nelson did all of the heavy lifting for Orlando in the fourth quarter. A lot of it came off that high pick and roll with rookie DeMarcus Cousins unable to rotate or hedge quickly enough to cut off Nelson’s penetration. This often gave Nelson a clear path to the basket and an easy layup. Hedo Turkoglu drained a 3-pointer to give the Magic a six-point lead late in the game.
Orlando was desperately holding on with Dwight Howard on the bench having fouled out. The team missed free throws down the stretch as DeMarcus Cousins seemed to go tit-for-tat with Nelson in the fourth quarter. The rookie, who set a career high with 29 points, clearly was running out of gas at the end of the game as he approached nearly 36 minutes of game time.
But it was undeniable that even against Dwight Howard, Sacramento was looking to attack the paint through Cousins. For most of the night it worked. Sacramento was shooting in the upper 50s for most of the first half. Orlando tightened up in the second half, holding Sacramento to less than 30 percent shooting in the third quarter. Still Orlando struggled to make up room.
That was largely because the Kings were going to the free throw line on nearly every possession.
Sacramento went 29 for 39 from the line. That amount of free throw attempts are sure to continue to frustrate Stan Van Gundy and his team (or at least you hope it did). The Magic committed 28 fouls and the two teams combined for 52 fouls. Not encouraging for a team still looking to discover its defensive identity.
Considering this game was played at about a pace of 100 possession, a 28 percent fouling percentage is not good. More than one of every four defensive possessions ended with a foul. The defense was frustrating to watch.
Sacramento may have shot just 41 percent from the floor and 5 for 14 from three. But that 50.9 true shooting percentage shows just how much free throws had an effect on the game. The Kings were able to hang around even without shooting the ball well because they could count on getting to the line and outwork the Magic to loose balls. Sacramento grabbed 16 offensive rebounds to Orlando’s six and held a 15-rebound advantage overall.
Luckily the Kings committed 21 turnovers and their poor defense — the Magic ended up shooting 49.4 percent — kept the Magic well within striking distance. Eventually Orlando was able to get Dwight Howard involved and Nelson took over to secure the win.
The Kings may not have been perfect, but they wanted this game a little more. And they just ran out of gas as the Magic tightened things up.
Dwight Howard was back, but struggled to get himself going against Cousins and Samuel Dalembert thanks to foul trouble. He scored 16 points on eight field goal attempts and 14 free throw attempts (a 56.5 percent true shooting percentage) and grabbed 15 rebounds. He was able to change the game defensively without even jumping as he tried to avoid his sixth foul.
Nelson was the star in the fourth quarter and scored 26 points total on 11-for-17 shooting, a good bounce back after his poor performance Monday night. Turkoglu added 13 and Jason Richardson scored 19.
Those offensive numbers seemed little consolation to Van Gundy after the game. He was visibly upset with the way his team played defensively. The slow start and inconsistent effort is clearly getting to Van Gundy and at some point this team is going to learn its lesson. Perhaps the Magic already should have.
Yet another lesson without losing for the Magic.