Magic Find Themselves in Comeback over Heat


Jason Richardson’s 6-for-8 shooting from long range helped Orlando erase a 24-point deficit and topple the Heat. Lynne Sladky/AP

Energy. Effort. Patience. Execution.

That is how you build a 24-point lead and that is how you erase one. No doubt about it, Orlando lacked it in the first half as frustration mounted in another (seemingly) Miami blowout. The Magic found it in the second half and quieted a Heat crowd ready to celebrate an easy victory.

The “tale of two halves” lead is cliche and tired. But there may be no other way to decipher this game. No other way to explain how Miami can shoot 60 percent in one half behind LeBron James and Dwyane Wade’s super efficiency and then score only 33 points in the second half, give up a 40-9 run and watch a 24-point lead turn into a nine-point deficit at one point.

The Magic somehow, someway defeated the Heat on the road 99-96 to split the season series with the Southeast Division rivals.

The second half and first half were completely night and day in every aspect. You don’t build a 24-point lead against an elite team without seeing a poor effort on one side. The Magic seemed listless and unwilling to stick with the offense. Things started off pretty well as the teams were tied at 19, but the Heat quickly built up a double-digit lead that they would not soon give up.

LeBron James and Dwyane Wade could have attacked the rim if they wanted to. They did not need to hitting just about every jumper they took. The two combined for 47 first half points and three missed field goals between the two, single-handedly outscoring Orlando by two points in the first half. Miami took 13 first-half free throws, Orlando had only four. None of those came from Dwight Howard.

The failure to get Dwight Howard going might have been a symbol of what was wrong more than anything else. The Heat swarmed him with a hard double team all game and he looked as impatient as he has in a long time. He needed to try and force some action, because his teammates were generally content standing around and watching — as they have often done in Howard’s big games.

Even though Miami stretched its lead out to 24 points, you could point to the lack of energy, turnovers and fouling.

Jameer Nelson may have been the one spark plug trying to make something happen for Orlando. James had so much energy defensively and was changing shots as if he was Dwight Howard. Howard was strangely quiet.

When James and Wade stopped hitting their shots, things changed drastically. Orlando picked up its energy. The things that came so easy for James and Wade became a struggle as Orlando closed the gap and made them work. Something clicked at some point in the third quarter to spark a 40-9 run.

Will it be something that carries over to Friday’s game or something that was a right place, right time effort. The Magic still had to make the plays to complete this unthinkable comeback.

Holding Wade and James to 10 points in the second half helps a bunch. Erick Dampier’s work on the boards kept things close as the Heat tried desperately to come back — Chris Bosh mised a 3-pointer and James missed two 3-pointers at the end that would have tied the game.

Different guys stepped up at different times. And exactly when Orlando needed them to.

Jason Richardson is continuing to build a steady reputation as a fourth quarter closer. He scored a team-high 24 points on 14 field goals and 6-for-8 shooting from beyond the arc. He posted an 85.7 percent effective field goal percentage. For all the frustration surrounding Richardson, games like this are the reason Richardson still hangs around. He was making 3-pointers and getting open looks.

A lot of that came from Jameer Nelson who had another aggressive fourth quarter. Nelson scored 16 points, diving and driving like he did in the New York game. He was struggling to finish with Bosh, James and Dampier at the rim. But he dished out seven assists, many of them to Ryan Anderson and Jason Richardson.

Quentin Richardson had his turn, doing a great job pressuring James on defense and needling him and getting his hands on the ball to disrupt his rhythm. Gilbert Arenas had his moments too with 11 points and a 3-for-5 performance from beyond the arc. Arenas did struggle handling the ball with three turnovers in 15 minutes (a 27.6 turnover rate).

And then there was Howard, stepping up on defense at the end and repelling Wade and James’ efforts to get to the rim. He had five blocked shots and 18 rebounds to go with 14 points. He had only 10 field goal attempts as the Heat did a good job forcing off his spots and making him rush through his game. Howard, though it took a while, found his way to impact on offense. He finished with five assists and five offensive rebounds.

Once the Magic found their effort and energy, they fit into roles and found their identity again. This is what Orlando should be doing. Great, energetic defense. Pick and roll offense and knock down shooting — 16 for 29 from beyond the arc tonight.

The only question is why didn’t the team play for 48 minutes?

That question may not matter as much in the immediate thinking. Orlando showed a lot of grit and fight in bouncing back from that abysmal first half. It is not easy to erase a 24-point deficit on the road against one of the top teams in the conference. It is quite the accomplishment.