Defense, long ball key Magic win

If you didn’t watch Game 7 of the Boston/Orlando series last night, you might look at the score (101-82) and assume that the Magic controlled the whole game. Not so. Orlando held a five-point lead heading into the fourth quarter, but an 8-0 run by the Magic at the start of the period pushed the lead to 13, and they went on to a 35-point quarter and a series victory.

In the first six games of the series, Orlando’s recipe for a win was pretty simple — defense. In their wins (Game 1, Game 3 and Game 6), the Magic held the Celtics to less than 44% shooting from the field. In their losses (Game 2, Game 4 and Game 5), the Celtics shot better than 44%. In Game 6, the Magic held the C’s to just 39% shooting.

The other major factor was the the Magic’s accuracy from long range. Early in the series, Orlando had the touch from three-point land, shooting a combined 26 of 64 (41%) in the first three games. In Game 4, Game 5 and Game 6, the Magic shot just 17 of 77 (22%) from deep. In Game 7, the Magic hit a stellar 13 of 21 (62%) of their threes, and it’s tough to beat a team when they are that hot from long range.

What was the difference? Boston’s perimeter defense is pretty good, but Orlando did an outstanding job of moving the ball crisply and cleanly, and the C’s just couldn’t chase down all of the Magic’s shooters.

Hedo Turkoglu was the star of the game, posting 25 points, 12 assists and five rebounds, while hitting 4 of 5 from long range. Four other Orlando players — Rashard Lewis (19), Mickael Pietrus (17), Rafer Alston (15) and Dwight Howard (12) — scored in double figures to provide a balanced offensive attack.

With the loss, the Celtics go home for the summer. They face another offseason where they may lose one or more of their key contributors. Last year, it was James Posey (signed with the Hornets) and P.J. Brown (retirement) who left, while this summer both Glen Davis and Leon Powe are free agents. Boston’s payroll is quite high ($73.7 million), so whether or not these players come back depends on how far over the luxury tax the Celtics’ ownership is willing to go. The luxury tax for next season probably won’t change from its level this year ($71.1 million), so any contract that Davis or Powe signs with the C’s will have to be matched dollar-for-dollar in luxury tax. For example, if they sign Davis to a four-year deal worth $16 million, that contract is going to cost the C’s an additional $4 million per season as long as they are over the luxury tax threshold.

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What did the Magic do right in Game 6?

On Wednesday, after two straight narrow defeats at the hands of the Celtics, I asked, “Why can’t the Magic finish games?” I referenced an article by John Carroll, where he said the problem was four-fold:

1. The Magic don’t fully commit at the defensive end.
2. They refuse to pound the ball inside.
3. They fall in love with the three-point shot.
4. They don’t trust their coach the way the Celtics do.

I focused on #2, and threw in a couple of other problems:

5. Poor late-game play from Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis.
6. They don’t have a guy who can consistently get to the hole.

So what was the difference in the Magic’s win in Game 6?

1. Check…they held the Celtics to just 75 points, 13 in the fourth quarter.
2. Check…Dwight Howard attempted 16 shots and 12 free throws; both are series highs.
3. No change…the Magic were just 6 of 26 for the game.
4. It’s hard to gauge how much they trust Stan Van Gundy on a game-to-game basis. They responded with good defense and a strong game plan to feed Howard the ball, so they must trust his instruction to a certain extent.

5. What about Turkoglu and Lewis? Here are their fourth quarter stats:

Lewis: 2-5 (0-1 3PT), 8 points, 3 rebounds, steal, assist
Turkoglu: 1-5 (1-3 3PT), 3 points, 2 rebounds

So Lewis and Turkoglu went a combined 3 of 10 for 11 points and five rebounds in Game 6. They shot 3 of 15 for a total of 11 points (combined) in Game 4 and Game 5. Turkoglu didn’t play particularly well, but the one shot he hit in the fourth quarter was HUGE. It came with 1:23 remaining and the Magic clinging to a three-point lead. Lewis clearly played well. He shot just 40% in the quarter, but he got to the line twice for four more points, had an assist, a steal and drew an offensive foul on Kendrick Perkins.

6. Check…Courtney Lee and Rafer Alston each had key driving layups in the fourth quarter. To win close games down the wire, you have to have a player (or two) that are effective at getting into the lane and finishing. Alston and Lee stepped up in the fourth quarter for the Magic.

On the whole, the Magic did a better job across the board, save for some very suspect three-point shooting. But can they post a repeat performance in Game 7 in front of a very hostile crowd?

Magic, Rockets steal Game 1’s on the road

By now you know that the Orlando Magic and Houston Rockets each managed to win Game 1 on the road, but what you may not know is how exactly they managed to pull those wins out.

Orlando rode a 30-17 second quarter to an 18-point lead at halftime, and led by as many as 28 (65-27) with nine minutes to play in the third quarter before the Celtics finally showed up to play. Boston whittled the lead down to four with two minutes to play, but a timely drive by Rafer Alston and four straight free throws by J.J. Redick helped the Magic hold on for the win.

Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo each went 2 of 12 from the field, so most of the Celtics’ scoring was left to Paul Pierce who finished with 23 points on 7 of 18 shooting. Boston simply wasn’t sharp; it might have been fatigue or maybe it was just one of those nights. Dwight Howard finished with 16 points, 22 rebounds and three blocks, and the C’s simply didn’t have an answer for him inside. Rashard Lewis, Hedo Turkoglu and Rafer Alston combined to shoot 17 of 45 (38%) from the field, so it’s not like Orlando was running on all cylinders, either.

Meanwhile, in L.A., the Rockets capitalized on the Lakers’ flat play. Yao Ming posted 28 points and 10 rebounds, while Ron Artest chipped in with 21 points and seven assists. But the key was the play of point guard Aaron Brooks, who outscored Derek Fisher (19 to eight) and came up with a pair of timely buckets in the fourth quarter. Along with Kyle Lowry, the Rockets have quickness in the backcourt that the Lakers can’t match unless they elect to play Shannon Brown and/or Jordan Farmar.

Shane Battier did a nice job defensively on Kobe Bryant, who scored 32 points but didn’t really get going until the Lakers were in scramble mode late in the game. He had seven points in the last 1:32, so without those makes, he was 12 of 29 (41%) for 25 points. Pau Gasol (14 points), Lamar Odom (9 points) and Andrew Bynum (10 points) all had relatively quiet games, which allowed the Rockets to spring the upset. In Artest, Carl Landry, Chuck Hayes and Yao Ming, the Rockets have one of the best defensive front lines in the league, so they have the personnel to slow down the Laker big men.

Watch Battier’s hands when he defends Kobe’s jumper. He essentially sticks his hand right in Kobe’s face, almost as if he’s about to poke Kobe in the eye. This can be distracting to a shooter, though I’m sure Bryant has seen it time and time again. Battier has the quickness and strength to keep Bryant out of the lane (most of the time, anyway) and the Rockets know they have a chance against the Lakers if they can turn Kobe into more of a shooter and less of a scorer.

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