Relief in Toronto


The whole game seemed to have that feeling of imminent danger. Orlando was leading, but never quite by enough. Toronto was struggling, but had a run that would pull the team back in. No one was efficient enough offensively to be completely out of it. Both teams were potent enough offensively to possibly pull ahead if given the chance.

Dwight Howard was the bedrock of the offense all game as he dominated the game one on one against whatever player Toronto tried to throw at him (it did not woork). He was not making his free throws — just 4 for 14 — and missed seven straight in the fourth quarter. If Howard could have made those, the game might have been finished with sooner after the Magic opened up a nine-point lead.

That was no matter.

In the final moments, Dwight’s dominance did its job and the Magic flipped the switch just enough to get away from Toronto with a win.

Jameer Nelson ran a pick and roll with Dwight and whipped the ball quickly to Jason Richardson around the horn to J.J. Redick in the corner. Redick was true and the shot easily went in to give Orlando a five-point lead with nine seconds left. The Magic would have one more salvo to survive and Redick calmly made his free throws to clinch the 92-88 victory.

ScoreOff. Rtg.eFG%O.Reb.%TO%FTR

It wasn’t entertaining. It wasn’t pretty. It was far from perfect on both sides of the ball. But it was a win. Another job completed.

Some of those same themes that carried out this past weekend (and in general) carried through in this game. The Magic had moments of pure brilliance on both ends of the floor and then moments of pure confusion and bewilderment. Stan Van Gundy was critical of the team’s energy (both team’s general energy, in fact) after the game.

It was not so much that the Magic played any slower than normal, the team was just relatively more stagnant and willing to shoot long-range jumpers more than usual. The team just was not sharp. that is the only way to describe it.

There were multiple points in the game that it seemed like Orlando would just blow the doors open and run away. Then the team would get into a little funk and the Raptors would begin attacking the basket. The lead would go from eight or nine to three or four pretty quickly. That was how this game went for the most part.

And for the most part, that was enough. All because Dwight Howard had perhaps his best offensive game of the year.

Howard scored 36 points on 16-for-20 shooting. His free throw shooting was frustrating, but Toronto did not do too much to put him on the line. With the way Dwight was shooting free throws, why wouldn’t the Raptors just foul him at every opportunity? That is something Dwane Casey is probably talking about and regretting in the post game.

The Raptors largely left Howard one on one and he took advantage. He displayed a wide array of post moves and fakes to get shots. He was making over-the-shoulder hooks and just about every post move and shot he wanted to try. Again, it was his most dynamic offensive performance of the season. There was no stopping Howard… except when he went to the line.

And this game surely would have been a blowout if the Magic got the kind of help it usually expects from its supporting cast.

The ball was moving decently well, but shots were not falling all night.

As a team, the Magic shot 44.3 percent from the floor. Ryan Anderson added 19 points and 13 rebounds, but hit just 7 of 16 field goals and one for five from beyond the arc. Anderson was one of the good ones though, he was not hitting his shot and so he went to the basket and worked the offensive glass. He had 10 rebounds by halftime and was producing in ways that he usually doesn’t.

The rest of the starters? Hedo Turkoglu had nine assists, but zero points. Jameer Nelson had six assists and 11 points, but needed to shoot 4 for 10 to do so. Jason Richardson was 2 for 10. J.J. Redick had 13 points but was 3 for 10.

There looks were not any better or any worse than normal. They were not falling. that is something you can live with.

What nobody can live with is the occasional lapses on defense. Toronto had runs to cut into the lead where DeMar DeRozan just attacked the basket seemingly at will. The team was not always on its game.

Wins are all that matter though. Dwight Howard was on his game and ready and able to carry the load offensively. In the fourth quarter, the Magic turned to him time and time again and he produced and scored. Howard came through with his promise to deliver when his team needed it most. Yes, the free throws did not go down, but you could not ask for anything more from Howard.

And the final result was all that Orlando needed to get out of this one.