True grit


Orlando was pesky. Annoying, even, to the homestanding Pacers.

But Indiana did what the higher-seeded team is supposed to do. The Pacers slowly pulled away, building a seven-point lead and doing what they are supposed to do.

Orlando is a pest. The Magic are pesky. Annoying, even. They would not go away. Not a chance.

Down seven points with about four minutes left in the game, the Magic were not done with the fight quite yet. Not by a long shot. And if the Pacers did not keep their foot on the pedal, there could be trouble from a team hungry for an upset.

Indiana is officially on notice, then.

Jameer Nelson hit a tough runner. Jason Richardson drained a 3-pointer… then drained another one. And the Pacers imploded.

It was a stunning turn of events that left Pacers fans booing their home team out of frustration with what happened. Danny Granger got a good look in the post and missed the easy finger roll. It opened the door for Richardson’s first 3-pointer. His backcourt violation the possession previous and his traveling violation at the very end just piled on a tough night for the Pacers franchise player. No moment might have been tougher than Granger’s two missed free throws with 1:14 left.

That led to a Magic timeout. A chance for Stan Van Gundy to draw up a play. He drew one up for Richardson to come off a staggered screen and Richardson drained it. The Magic were up two and had the Pacers reeling.

This appeared to be the difference this evening between a team with nothing to lose and a team playing with the weight of expectations for the first time. There is still a long way to go in the series, but the Magic made their presence this postseason felt with that 11-0 run to close the game. They stole homecourt advantage with a 81-77 slugfest at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Saturday night.

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Jameer Nelson and Jason Richardson each had 17 points, with Nelson adding nine assists too. Glen Davis scored 16.

This game was everything the Magic have not been the last month without Dwight Howard. The defense was strong and decisive, Orlando poking away at the basketball and closing out on shooters. Glen Davis did a great job pushing Roy Hibbert off his spot and making it difficult for him to get going offensively. The Magic were doubling the post hard and living with the Pacers beating them from beyond the 3-point line.

That strategy is dangerous — Indiana did have three very good chances to close the game out with wide open 3-pointers from Paul George, Darren Collison and Leandro Barbosa in the final two minutes that all missed — but paid off.

Indiana shot only 34.5 percent from the floor and 4 for 13 from beyond the arc. It was notable only because Orlando needed the defense to make up for its own offensive struggles — 39.5 percent shooting, 9-for-24 shooting from beyond the arc. This was the opposite of the last month for sure.

The Magic played with extreme energy and it showed in the way they constantly fought back and pushed through its own struggles.

The game started off on the wrong foot. Indiana was trying to get it into the post and were able to take advantage of the team’s size over Orlando. Worse, with the Magic missing shots, the Pacers were able to get out on the break. That gave them a 10-point lead early. Orlando was not going to fold. And that is going to become a theme of this series as it has been throughout the latter part of this series.

Orlando got a string of 3-pointers to take the lead by seven heading into the locker room.

Orlando’s gameplan was a pretty simple one. The Magic were trying to get into the paint using pick and rolls and get the defense to sink in. Early on, the Pacers were struggling defending the roll man and keeping track of all the moving parts. The only saving grace early on was Roy Hibbert, who blocked nine shots in the game and had more than a few of on Glen Davis.

Hibbert though would disappear for stretches as the Magic either kicked out when they saw him roaming in the middle of the paint or continued to go at him. Somehow Hibbert did not commit a foul (he had a lot of clean blocks, but a few where you could question it), but he did his job setting the tone in the paint.

His play to re-establish his dominance in the third quarter helped hold Orlando to just 30 second-half points and help Indiana erase the halftime deficit pretty quickly. The Pacers did a much better job jumping pick and rolls and keeping the Magic off balance offensively. Orlando never really found its footing until the very end.

The very end is what is going to stick out. The Pacers played the better game until the final four minutes. They clearly had advantages in a lot of different places, but they could never pull away from the scrappy and hard-working Magic.

So Indiana let one slip away. And Orlando was there to catch it. The Magic’s shortcomings and who wasn’t there did not matter in this one.

What did matter is the Magic got a 1-0 lead and told the Pacers they are in for a battle the next two weeks.

Game on.