If this was the end. If this is how he walks off the Amway Center floor for the last time. What a game.
And that is all that can be said.
So taking a cue from Stan Van Gundy, let’s “give a shit” about the game tonight and leave all the zaniness of the NBA’s silly season on the sidelines. Instead, we will talk about the way Dwight Howard met LeBron James at the rim, not once, but twice for a late-game stop. And how Jameer Nelson attacked the basket with a 2009-like zeal. And how Ryan Anderson and J.J. Redick fought for a come-from-behind victory.
Orlando was ready for Miami. The team was aggressive. But the Heat found a way to bully them in the second quarter. It would have been easy to take the excuse of the trade deadline and all the rumors and fold after giving up nearly 20 unanswered points.
The Magic did not. And then Jameer Nelson went toe to toe with Dwyane Wade at the end of the game — both regulation and overtime. Nelson hit a pull up 3-pointer with a little fewer than a minute left to give Orlando a 3-point lead. In overtime, he scored six points in the overtime, most of them with James guarding him, knowing that Nelson was the guy the Magic would go to.
Orlando brushed everything aside and played a strong game, defeating Miami 104-98 in overtime.
Orlando would not let Miami dominate the team this time, like it did in the last meeting in Miami. The Heat were looking to trap the ball handlers coming around the pick and rolls and the Magic came out extremely decisive and ready to attack. It was quick ball movement and and a willingness to attack rather than hoist up the first decent 3-pointer that had the Magic scoring 30 points in the first quarter and looking extremely fluid.
Dwight Howard had 12 of his 24 points in the first quarter, establishing fantastic post position and taking advantage of all the drives his teammates made. There was a lot of space for him to operate.
Yes the Magic were struggling protecting the ball and committed numerous turnovers, but they were aggressive turnovers. And, yes, those turnovers led to fast break opportunities for Wade, James and the Heat. But that was the only way they were scoring for the most part.
So when Orlando went cold, every missed shot seemed to spark another fast break and another run out. The Heat went on a 19-0 run in the second quarter to turn a five-point deficit into a double-digit lead. Miami seemed in complete control. And things did not look better entering the third quarter. Orlando had silly, stupid turnovers — even a five second inbounds violation — that just made you believe things would only get worse.
Especially against this team.
Dwight Howard was not getting the ball as Chris Bosh or Joel Anthony fronted him and kept him from getting good post position. The Magic had lost their confidence and could not get things going.
The Magic had to turn to some energy guys to get going. Jameer Nelson and Ryan Anderson answered the call.
Anderson continued to show his value and continued to be a player Orlando can depend on in tight spots. Anderson was in the right place at the right time on more than one occasion in grabbing seven offensive rebounds and scoring 16 points. He was just two for five from beyond the arc. The cleanup baskets were a big boost as Orlando slowly etched at the lead.
And then Nelson just took over.
He scored a season-high 25 points. His -5 plus/minus does not display the kind of value he gave to the team, especially late. Nelson really did look like the 2009 version that made the All-Star team. He was quick and decisive off the dribble, cutting through the lane and making shots at his will. The pull-up jumper was there. He was getting to the basket and finishing around the rim.
In reality, it was a reminder of everything Nelson can do and the potential in this team. This is still a team that can do a lot of damage in the postseason or whenever when it is playing well.
The Magic’s defense in the second half was much better than the first. They got back and stopped the fast breaks that made the bulk of the Heat’s offense in the first half. A sign of this is evidenced in the free throw shooting. Miami had 11 attempts from the charity stripe in the first half. And that was the amount the team finished with.
Miami’s offense relies a lot on attacking and getting to the basket. Orlando largely prevented that — none more emphatically than when Howard sent back to James shots at the rim late in the game, continuing that story line. The Magic dominated the boards, limiting the Heat to eight offensive rebounds to the Magic’s 11. Howard had a measley 26 rebounds.
The Magic are simply on a roll. With wins over Chicago and Indiana in the last two games, this Magic team has responded to the wake up call from the loss in Charlotte. Now if Howard stays, at least we know this team can play at an extremely high level.
I said I wouldn’t talk about it, but there is no avoiding the topic. We don’t know if Dwight Howard just played his last home game in a Magic uniform. We don’t. He said he wants to stay for the rest of the season now and beseeched the Magic to “roll the dice” on him. But that may not be something the team can do. With Monta Ellis traded, the Magic are running out of options to improve the team.
For now, relish a big win that keeps the slim hope of winning the Southeast Division alive and solidifies the team’s spot as the third seed in the Eastern Conference. Thursday is another day closer.