Jameer Nelson darted in and out of the lane, finishing at the rim, pulling up for jumpers and stepping into 3-pointers with the ease that made it look like 2009. The Magic had the lead heading into the fourth quarter and had erased a 15-point deficit early in the game and never quit.
There was no quit in the 2012 team. That might be how we ultimately remember them.
The last month of the season, this team took on a different identity. This was not a team that had inconsistent energy levels and an enormously huge distraction all season. This was a team playing with its back against the wall, in unfamiliar roles and playing in a way that this team was not built for. This was a team relying heavily on certain key players and often getting the exact production it needed from them.
This was a team that was fatally flawed, but willing to work past those weaknesses and refusing to have them exploited, not without a fight, at least.
Orlando had one last game to fight and keep the season going another game. And the Magic were determined to keep its season going.
It was not to be.
Jameer Nelson turned back the clock and scored 27 points on 11-for-21 shooting, dominating in the pick and roll and shooting with a confidence we have not seen since February of 2009. It gave the Magic their first third quarter win and a two-point lead entering the final two minutes of the game.
Nelson’s counterpart for the Pacers took over the fourth quarter. And the Magic could not reach into the tank for one more miracle.
Darren Collison scored 19 points, hitting nine of his 10 shots, breaking down and ripping apart the Magic defense. The offense began to unravel as Glen Davis could not muster the energy to pull out one more miracle.
Nelson’s shot was no longer falling at the alarming rate. Glen Davis could not get the energy to roll hard down the lane or make the quick rotations that made him so valuable throughout this series. Hedo Turkoglu missed a 3-pointer wide off the backboard. Jason Richardson was short on a long-range shot.
Orlando had given everything it had. Indiana was slowly ripping it apart before the deluge finally came on a Paul George and Danny Granger 3-pointers. The 2012 season ended with a 105-87 Pacers victory at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. All the adjustments and all the above-average play from so many players on the roster was not enough. Utlimately, Indiana’s size and depth won out.
The 2012 season was as bizarre as it got. The ending would not be short of that bizarreness.
Orlando was getting beat on the glass by the Pacers’ size and length and facing a team that looked to be shooting just too well. Orlando was somewhat tight and mising its looks. And that put the Magic in a 15-point hole.
The tables turned, as they had all series, in the second quarter as Orlando got its share of offensive rebounds, limited turnovers and fast break opportunities and started hitting its own shots.
Ryan Anderson finally broke his cold streak with 14 points on 4-for-9 shooting from beyond the arc. Glen Davis got himself going with 15 points and eight rebounds in the game. Those two provided a great effort. But it was really the work of the guards digging in on double teams of Roy Hibbert and David West throughout the second quarter that forced Indiana into some real sloppy play. The Pacers had 10 turnovers in the first half and allowed the Magic back into the game.
They never could quite pull away as Jameer Nelson traded punches with Indiana throughout the third quarter.
But like a good fight, the better conditioned fighter won. Indiana had more in reserve than Orlando did. The Magic had to rely on Jameer Nelson for 39 minutes. Glen Davis was in there for 38. J.J. Redick had to play 30. Anderson, 39. Hedo Turkoglu, who provided little offensively, played 39 too.
By the end, you could see Collison tearing Orlando’s interior up and players simply unable to muster the energy to get out and contest 3-pointers. It was frustrating to watch because you just knew Orlando did not have it in them to do much more. This was their best.
That might speak to the way the roster was constructed. It might speak to depth. It might speak to the coaching and how Stan Van Gundy built his rotation. it might speak to the loss of Dwight Howard to injury. The excuses do not matter.
What matters is that it is over. Orlando has big decisions to make this summer from management to coaching to the roster.
Whatever we saw Tuesday, it is likely the last time we saw this team in this iteration. The era ended not with the bang we could hope for. It ended with a fight fallen short. But, boy, was that fight fun to watch.