The fire was missing from the Magic. Jameer Nelson noticed it and was frustrated by it. Finally after six games sidelined with an injury there was something he could do about it.
Trailing by 10 points in the third quarter, Jacque Vaughn stood in his coach's huddle while Nelson huddled with his teammates. There, Nelson constructively vented his frustration with the Magic's effort so far that evening in Detroit. He asked his teammates to commit themselves on defense and not to let offensive struggles affect their effort on the defensive end.
It was a seemingly simply request from the Magic's team captain. One he could have said easily in a practice as a reminder. It might have meant more coming from someone in the heat of battle though. It might have meant more coming from someone who could actually put actions behind the words in a game.
Jameer Nelson's return turned out to be more than the return of a stabilizing presence. It was the return of the team's captain and a return of the resolve people are coming to expect of this scrappy team.
The Magic erased what was a 13-point deficit into a 110-106 win over the Pistons at the Palace of Auburn Hills on Friday. Orlando fought tooth and nail against Detroit to secure the victory in a back-and-forth fourth quarter. The Magic had the final bit of momentum, taking a one-point lead on a well-drawn out-of-bounds play that set up J.J. Redick for a wide-open 3-pointer from the corner.
Redick, of course, drained the shot. The Magic got a stop, forcing Greg Monroe into very difficult shot over Arron Afflalo in the post. Then Glen Davis willed a hook shot in to give Orlando a three-point lead and enough cushion to win the game at the free throw line.
The sudden defensive intensity certainly seemed to start after Nelson challenged his teammates. To that point, Greg Monroe and the Pistons were having their way with Orlando's interior defense. Monroe posted 23 points and seven rebounds and Andre Drummond came off the bench to make five of his six shots to score 10 points and grab three rebounds in 15 minutes.
Nelson was among the reasons Orlando was able to keep the game tight and was one of the reasons the Magic eventually pulled ahead. Nelson had no points in the first half as he got back into the NBA game groove. But he added another five assists in the second half and added in 14 points on 4-for-6 shooting in the second half.
The spark from Nelson turned into an offense that was constantly in the paint and moving the ball as fluidly as it did in those two victories at home to start the season.
Redick had 23 points and five assists. Glen Davis had 17 points and 13 rebounds. Arron Afflalo had 19 points on 7-for-14 shooting.
The Magic were generating points and scoring opportunities and were fighting for offensive rebounds — grabbing 14 and outrebounding the Pistson 44-30. These things kept Orlando within striking distance and foreshadowed the team's eventual comeback. The Pistons could not keep the Magic off the glass and that turned out to be the key.
Detroit early on was shooting near 60 percent from the floor and doing a good job defensively in squeezing Orlando some defensively. But every time it seemed like the Pistons were about to pull completely ahead and put the Magic away, the Magic would respond with a run. A run that, until the end of the game, came up just short of delivering the Magic the lead. It was that kind of evening until the Magic broke through and made the fourth quarter a battle.
Against New York and against Chicago, Orlando struggled to execute late in games and make the plays needed to win. The Magic found the right formula and made the shots to do that against the Pistons. Who knows what would have happened in this game without Nelson's call to attention. The sure thing is that it was good to have Nelson's calming influence back in the lineup.