What Went Wrong: A Closer


Over the next few weeks Orlando Magic Daily will be taking a look at the things that went right and wrong this season as Orlando ended its season with a disappointing first-round loss to Atlanta.

Games are not decided in two minutes. They just aren’t. You cannot discount 48 minutes of basketball and try to summarize it in two minutes. There is nothing inherently more important about these two minutes than any other.

But the final two minutes reveal a lot about what your team is truly made of. The Magic had their moments late in games — Jason Richardson’s four-point play against the 76ers and Jameer Nelson’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer against the Nuggets come to mind pretty quickly as do Nelson’s late-game heroics in Indiana and New Jersey along with Dwight Howard’s game-winner in Washington. But when it came down to the playoffs, the Magic had no ability to finish.

Three of the four losses came because Atlanta was simply able to execute better down the stretch. At the time the Magic absolutely needed offense, they could not find it. Jamal Crawford could dribble in the same spot for five seconds, rise up and shoot and there was nothing Orlando could do about it. Joe Johnson could drive and knife into the lane as he did in the closing stages of Game Six, and the Magic could not respond.

Jameer Nelson had his three big moments in the course of the season, but the Magic went away from him in the postseason as Hedo Turkoglu continued to clank and miss. The final insult from the basketball gods was of course J.J. Redick missing a wide-open 3-pointer to tie the game and keep the Magic’s season alive for just five minutes more.

Orlando was just short. The team lacked that last little thing it needed. That little thing might have been the difference between a team contending for a championship and a team exiting after the first round.

There is blame in this case to go around to everybody.

Blame for Otis Smith for putting together a team that just did not have that little oomph. Blame for the players for not converting on those last second shots or doing enough defensively earlier in the game to get stops. Blame for Stan Van Gundy for not making sure the right guy got the ball at the right time.

It was a deathly shortcoming for Orlando as it showed throughout the postseason.

The Magic just could not generate offense. and a team that led the league in point differential in 2010 by a healthy 9.3 points per 100 possessions, finished tied for third at 6.6. It sure seemed like a lot less.

I passed some praise to Stan Van Gundy for being able to roll with the punches and keep the team afloat despite wholesale changes and a somewhat poorly constructed roster. But Van Gundy also deserves some blame for being unable to be flexible and perhaps change his offensive strategy to maximize his player’s abilities.

Within the constructs of what the Magic have done the last three years, Orlando played about as well as the team could. It certainly was not good enough.

It might have been asking too much of Van Gundy to completely shift his offensive strategy and to install a new offense mid-season. But it definitely felt like that is what had to be done.

Orlando made the trades in December to bolster a seemingly listless offense. It did not work. The Magic finished tied for 11th in offensive efficiency at 105.5 points per 100 possessions. In 2010, they finished second at 109.5, and in 2009, the Magic were eighth at 107.2. Orlando took a big step backwards offensively.

Van Gundy deserves blame for that. As much as he was able to adjust on the fly, he also could not fit and adjust his offense to his personnel. He put players in positions of success but he never took advantage of all his players could do.

Van Gundy turned Gilbert Arenas into a spot-up shooter rather than an attacker (not that Arenas could do that). He expected Turkoglu to pick up right where he left off in Orlando. And he really did not. He continued to struggle.

Like with the Vince Carter/Rashard Lewis relationship on the court, Van Gundy could not make both effective and it ultimately doomed the Magic in the 2010 postseason and early in 2011. Van Gundy just did not, could not or would not use his players to the best of their abilities. And the team paid the price.

A training camp together might fix some of these issues. Like I said in my previous post on Van Gundy, that seems to be where he really gets his work in. But the offense just did not work.

And you could tell it did not work most in the final moments of those games in the postseason. The Magic are not going to Dwight Howard that late because of those free throw fears. That much has been established. So when the team needed a bucket from one of its perimeter players, they had no clue what to do or how to get open.

The Hawks defense should get credit for bottling up Hedo Turkoglu, Jameer Nelson and Jason Richardson late in games. But the team failed to get good looks. And Smith failed to get Van Gundy players who could create against athetlic wing players.

And that is what the postseaosn ultimately comes down to. Can you create a play?

In the end, the Magic could not.

Photos via DayLife.com.

What Went Right: Dwight HowardOur Expectations & FrustrationAmway CenterLewis’ Replacements, Stan Van Gundy
What Went Wrong: The TradesSpeculationAmway CenterAnderson & Bass in the Playoffs