With 25 seconds left in a tie game, Jameer Nelson stepped to the free throw line with the opportunity to give Orlando a slender one-point lead. A point guard and a 77.4 percent free throw shooter, you felt comfortable it would go in.
It may not have mattered with what Dirk Nowitzki was about to do at the other end. Nelson though missed the free throw to keep the game tied and Dallas, with momentum firmly on its side seized the game in front of it.
Dirk Nowitzk, draped by Hedo Turkoglu, came across a staggered screen to receive the ball and posted Turkoglu up. What happened next was a shot only Nowitzki could pull off. He raised up on that one foot and lofted the ball softly off the glass and in to give the Mavericks a two-point lead with five seconds left.
Stan Van Gundy drew up a fantastic play that the Magic executed perfectly. Orlando turned to Nelson again and he made the right decision to drive to the hole. The defense quickly moved to cut off his path to the basket. So Nelson found Turkoglu, wide open, for the win. Turkoglu’s shot missed short and Ryan Anderson, who came across the lane to clear out the defense on the inbounds, stayed under the basket in perfect position to rebound.
With the clock quickly running out, Anderson put the ball up toward the rim quickly. His point black putback hit the back iron and fell no good as the buzzer sounded. Dallas had escaped with a 100-98 victory at Amway Center on Friday night.
The Magic? They had left a golden opportunity to get a big win against a solid team and put away some bad mojo from that blowout loss Wednesday. Instead, Orlando saw a 15-point second half lead dissipate and turnovers skyrocket.
Stan Van Gundy spent most of his press conference once again lamenting his team’s turnover shortcomings. The Magic had four turnovers at halftime and took a nine-point lead to the locker room. The Magic had 12 in the second half. Six of them came in the fourth quarter.
Orlando’s final number with turnovers don’t look so bad compared to the previous games and troubles the team has had taking care of the ball. But against good teams like Dallas and when the games really get tight, that is just not good enough. And as the turnovers piled up and Dallas’ defense ratcheted up, Orlando looked more and more like a mediocre team and less like a championship-contending one.
Championship teams, plain and simple, don’t leave opportunities like this on the court.
The Magic had the energy they lacked in Wednesday’s game and had the focus they needed too. The Magic dominated the first quarter with crisp ball movement and a healthy dose of Dwight Howard. Hedo Turkoglu and Jameer Nelson were getting to the basket and everything was flowing. Orlando had a 10-point lead and control of the game.
The Mavericks cut the lead to three at one point in the second quarter as the second unit had its usual struggles and “malaise.” But the Magic fought it off.
They kept that energy and that flow through much of the third quarter. The lead expanded. Things seemed pretty well in hand.
Howard had 19 points on 6-for-13 shooting and 7-for-16 shooting from the foul line. He added 15 rebounds. Jameer Nelson had a superb game, getting to the basket seemingly at will with 24 points on 10-for-17 shooting.
But Orlando was in cruise control. Dallas was getting ready to ratchet it up.
Re-donning his headband and high socks after losing a promotional bet to Jameer Nelson earlier in the week, Terry went on a 10-point run on his own and brought Dallas to life. Their defense tightened up and the ball denials and post defense ramped up on Dwight Howard. Howard had just two points and two field goal attempts (one free throw attempt) in the fourth quarter as he became a screener for the final 12 minutes. His last field goal attempt was a determined driving layin that drew a foul with 8:26 left.
Dallas had two bodies on him on every roll. And the Magic were not taking care of the ball well enough to make the Mavericks pay for those rotations with weakside 3-pointers.
And then, in the end, Dirk Nowitzki was simply brilliant. He scored 28 points on 9-for-18 shooting and was simply in a zone despite some physical defense from Ryan Anderson and Earl Clark throughout the night. He frustrated every defender that futiley attempted to contest his shots.
That, of course, freed up other players. That included a critical late-game 3-pointer from Delonte West to cut a four-point Magic lead to one.
The Magic are, at this late stage of the season, still learning how to step on their throats and put teams away. Orlando let this one slip through its fingers after controlling the pace and lead for most of the way.