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Magic Survive Bobcats’ Comeback, Take Game One 98-89

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When Jameer Nelson is on, the Magic are practically impossible to beat. And Nelson was on in game one Sunday night, exploding for 32 points (which tied a career-high), six assists and four rebounds. The Bobcats cut a 22-point deficit to as little as four before the Magic hit big shots down the stretch and took game one 98-89. Gerald Wallace was excellent for the Bobcats – he scored 25 points and grabbed 17 rebounds.

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Jameer Nelson was the story of the game. Nelson tied a career-high by dropping 32 points and still managed to dish out six assists and grab four rebounds. 24 of those points, including a buzzer-beating 35-foot three-pointer, came in the first half. Although Nelson tailed off in the second half, his performance should be categorized as no less than outstanding. Nelson was in attack mode early on, beating Raymond Felton off the dribble on several occasions and often getting to the basket with relative ease.

“When I’m in attack mode, we’re pretty good,” Nelson told the media following the game.

Nelson made six consecutive free throws down the stretch to put the game out of reach.

When asked about having Nelson back after missing him for the first three rounds of the playoffs last season, all of the players were obviously very happy to have him and Dwight Howard offered up perhaps the quote of the night.

“I’m just happy to have the little crib midget back,” Howard said, stealing a line from Matt Barnes.

Before the game, the Bobcats decided they were going to employ a strategy of throwing all of their bigs at Howard and assigning them to be very physical with him to frustrate him. The plan worked to an extent, at least on the offensive end. The Bobcats successfully got Howard into foul trouble, limiting the big man to just under 28 minutes of play. Howard was just 2-of-4 from the field and made only one of his six free throw attempts, finishing the game with just five points. Howard did however make his presence known on the defensive end. Howard blocked nine shots, altered several others and pretty much kept the Bobcats out of the paint all together. When Howard had to sit down with foul trouble, Marcin Gorat had a night to forget. He didn’t challenge many shots and rarely left his feet to defend the interior. Gortat finished with two points and five rebounds in 20 minutes.

Bobcats coach Larry Brown summed Howard’s day up well when he took the podium.

“He got five points and he was the most valuable player,” Brown told the media following the game.

When Howard was out of the game, the Bobcats were able to get into the paint and score. Gerald Wallace was the biggest benefactor of Howard’s absence. Wallace scored 25 points on just 13 field goal attempts and was able to get to the free throw line 13 times, hitting nine of those attempts. Wallace posted a true shooting percentage of 65%. Wallace also managed to grab a game-high 17 rebounds.

Rashard Lewis, who by his standards, had a sub-par regular season, stepped up Sunday night. In fact, had he or Nelson not played so well on the offensive end, the Magic could not have won this game.

“Other than Jameer and Rashard, we really struggled offensively,” Van Gundy told reporters following the game.

Lewis was extremely efficient and was much smarter with his shot selection. Lewis finished the night by shooting 8-of-11 from the field and made five of his six two-point attempts. Lewis was also more active on the glass, grabbing five rebounds.

Vince Carter had a very disappointing playoff debut for the Magic. Not only did Carter foul out, but he shot just 4-of-19 from the field and missed all five of his three-point attempts, finishing with just 12 points.  Carter didn’t have great shot selection, settling for too many long jumpers. After the game, Van Gundy pointed out that Carter missed a lot of shots that he usually hits.

“I think it was one of those days in terms of shooting the ball,” Van Gundy said. “I think most of those shots if Vince gets them again, he’ll make them.”

Van Gundy did admit he thought Carter did not attack the basket nearly enough.

“I still would like to see him attacking more,” Van Gundy told reporters. “I didn’t think he was in a mindset to attack today.”

Orlando’s bench played a key role. J.J. Redick and Mickael Pietrus not only put up solid numbers, but each player made key shots down the stretch. After the Bobcats cut Orlando’s lead to 78-71, J.J. Redick hit an open three-pointer (after Ryan Anderson couldn’t get a good shot up over his defender, got it back and found Redick for the open shot (Larry Brown was not happy with that play)). On their next possession, Redick drove to the basket and hit a layup. Later, with Orlando up five and just 1:23 remaining, Pietrus attempted to draw a foul by jumping into his defender, but didn’t get the call and instead had to put up a tough three-pointer that somehow fell, pushing Orlando’s lead back to eight. Redick finished with 10 points and Pietrus had 14. The two were responsible for making six of Orlando’s 13 three-pointers and only responsible for four of their 17 misses.

At the podium following the game, Van Gundy offered his thoughts and sounded fairly pleased, which as those familiar with Van Gundy should know, is strange.

“I think it was a good day from that standpoint that we got a real good effort out of them (the Bobcats)” Van Gundy told reporters after the game. “They really got to experience the way they’re going to play and still got out of here with a win, and knowing that we need to be a lot better on Wednesday.”

Game Notes:

  • Dwight Howard set a franchise record for blocks in a half with eight blocks in the first half. The previous franchise record was five, also held by Howard.
  • Stephen Jackson was injured at the end of the first half. He returned to the game but Larry Brown decided to hold him out late in the game. He responded, “Yes…definitely” when asked if he was going to play in game two.
  • Nelson was an astonishing 10-of-12 from the field in the first half.
  • Charlotte scored just 89 points. The Magic were 47-10 when holding opponents under 100 points during the regular season.
  • Pietrus has averaged 12.9 points per game since April 1st.
  • Orlando was outrebounded 41-to-34 and managed to win. They were 11-15 when they were outrebounded during the regular season.

Next Up: The Magic will host the Hornets in game two on Wednesday night.

Final Thought: Although they blew a big lead, in the playoffs a win is a win. Especially when Dwight Howard scores just five points and Vince Carter shoots 4-of-19 from the field.

(Andrew Melnick is Howard the Dunk’s lead blogger and a contributor on the Fansided Front Page and at Sir Charles In Charge. Subscribe to his RSS feed, add him on Twitter to follow him daily and you can get the HTD app here).