Basketball, particularly high level basketball, is ostensibly a half-court game. You can try to push the pace and you can try to score in transition, but the majority of your points will come in half-court sets.
Particularly late in close games, offense and scoring becomes more about exploiting matchups and creating plays when defenses begin to lock in.
The Magic knew with the roster they had that this season would be difficult in those moments. Already in six games, the Magic had seen the difficulties of executing on offense in the NBA completely in the half court. Sometimes, games simply come down to talent and making shots. There the Knicks certainly had the advantages.
Carmelo Anthony is the kind of player a team can give the ball to and expect good things to happen. Even on a night when he is struggling to score, he can hit a groove and become a one-man offense generator. The Magic did not have that kind of a player. Not Tuesday night.
Arron Afflalo tried to be that guy but could not find the bottom of the net. His turnover issues were signs of a larger symptom. Orlando's flowing offense and movement came to a standstill as the team could not crack the New York defense and could not keep the ball moving efficiently.
The Knicks forced 11 turnovers in the fourth quarter and ended on a 20-6 run to turn a one-point deficit into a runaway 99-89 victory at Amway Center on Tuesday. The Magic played hard and played well for three quarters. But when push came to shove in the fourth quarter again, the Magic could not generate points and could not score. After setting a blistering offensive pace, Orlando had only 13 points in the final quarter.
Not enough to get a win and break this now-five-game losing streak.
The Magic just could not stop Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith in the fourth quarter. Anthony shot 11 for 22 and scored 25 points. Smith came off the bench to score 21 points, displaying a variety of dribble moves and step backs to get free for shots. He simply could not miss for most of the evening. The Magic had avoided double teaming Anthony until the final quarter when he finally got his offensive game into high gear. This opened up driving lanes for Raymond Felton (21 points on 9-for-23 shooting) and even some alleys for Tyson Chandler to throw down vicious dunks.
This was how the Knicks rebuilt their lead and finally tamed the Magic. To that point, Orlando was the more aggressive and sure team on the offensive end (and to some extent on the defensive end, although neither team played much defense in this one).
The Magic got Tyson Chandler into foul trouble in the first half, forcing the Knicks to use a small lineup that featured Carmelo Anthony and Steve Novak as the team's post players. This gave Glen Davis and Andrew Nicholson an advantage inside and Orlando went to that duo time and again.
Without Chandler to protect the basket, the Magic were able to cut and get to the basket with relative easy. J.J. Redick had 10 of his 18 points in the first half, cutting and moving and running circles around the Knicks defenders with relative easy. Maurice Harkless came in and made an impact with 10 points largely on put backs and tip ins without Chandler's menacing rebounding presence there.
Harkless also had seven rebounds and four blocks, taking his turn defending Anthony and blocking several of his shots at the rim in what was certainly his best overall outing of his short career. Nicholson too played well, taking advantage of his positioning in the post to score 11 points on 4-for-7 shooting.
In all, Orlando had seven players in double figures, including all five starters. The Magic's offense generated 28 assists on 37 field goals. it was one of the best offensive performances of the early season.
Until it became about execution and the pressure ramped up. The Magic just did not finish as Chandler was back in for the fourth quarter and changed how the Magic had to attack. There were less cuts and off-ball movement, more isolations and more long-range or mid-range heaves that cost the Magic dearly.
The necessary elements for offensive success for Orlando were not exercised. Arron Afflalo shot only 4 for 14 in the game and committed seven turnovers. The Magic as a whole had 20 and the Knicks seemed to make the Magic pay for each mistake in the final 12 minutes.
It was a frustrating loss to take in that sense. Orlando played well enough to win and showed it had put the struggles of the last week behind it. This team is better than it has played. But still has a long way to go if this team wants to entertain ideas of a postseason berth.
The Magic were not closers tonight. They did not executetheir half court sets. And when that happens, a loss usually follows.