Ball Don't Lie - NBA



Orlando 96, Boston 92 (OT)
; Boston leads series 3-1

The Magic finally show up, most of them, and play what looks to be as good a game as they can muster. So why — oh, why; oh, why — could they only pull out the desperation win in overtime? Why did it take 52 minutes to conjure up a two-possession lead when it counted, and 53 minutes to pull out the win?

Well, the Celtics are good. The Celtics are great, actually, and the Celtics minus Kevin Garnett(notes) (as, sorry to say, they kind of were down the stretch of Game 4) took the Magic minus Jameer Nelson(notes) to seven games last season. Imagine what they could do with KG's defense, plus a 5-5 start from the field from Garnett.

So a four-point victory, even in that "desperation game" that usually results in a blowout as one team seethes and the other takes a deserved breather. In Boston, against the Celtics, a four-point win in overtime sounds just about right. Even with the whole cornered-animal routine working.

Beyond the inspired nonsense, the Magic won because the defense returned, and the offense saw daylight for just enough time to put some points on the board. Over 103 points per 100 possessions for Orlando, and while that's a pittance compared to where they were at in the regular season, it was enough.

It was a struggle, too. Dwight Howard(notes) set some fantastic, legal screens in this game; and even that wasn't always enough to free Jameer Nelson. He'd need a second screen, and even after that those drives and those shots were contested. But, as it's been for the last two seasons, every time Nelson made this offense his own, the Magic succeeded. Or, had a better chance to succeed. Any time this guy plays aggressive, head-down basketball, Orlando reveals itself as an option-heavy offensive mini-terror. Relatively speaking.

It was only Boston's continued lockdown defense that kept things close. The weak-side rotations for Boston were so perfect in every way during this loss, and though this wasn't exactly an example of such (I'm talking about meeting the penetrator with moving feet while being able to cover and find his options in the corner and up top), Glen Davis'(notes) startling block of Dwight Howard in the fourth quarter seemed a symbolic turn.

Davis is a year and a half removed from getting chewed out by Kevin Garnett on national TV (if you can count a Friday night audience on basic cable "national TV") because his rotations were so poor. Last year, against Orlando, Davis was a "hurts us on D, but we need the offense" guy, sopping up minutes while Kevin Garnett and Leon Powe(notes) watched from the pine.

This year? He's playing as good defensively as anyone on this team, forcing all-world defender Kendrick Perkins(notes) to the bench (not Kendrick's fault, he was caught in some iffy fouls and was cold) in the late stages, guarding Dwight Howard despite standing, what, 6-6?

So, yes, Nelson saw the light, but it was fleeting. Can it continue? I think so, as little as I think of some Magic members, and as highly as I think of the Celtics, but that's a thought for another post.

Once again, aggression was the key, and I haven't the foggiest as to why the Magic couldn't come through with this sort of effort, this sort of interest level, on Saturday night. All it takes is a good screen and Nelson rounding the corner with any sort of purpose, and you can put the defense — any defense — on its heels.

No matter how great the Boston attack is on that end, this game is well over 100 years old, and nobody has found an answer for having to briefly guard a 5-on-4 attack (after the screen and roll registers one defender useless) with a team's best shooter and passer and driver in control of the ball. It's why teams still run this thing. The stuff works.

Boston worked, too. Ray Allen(notes) hit some tough shots late, Paul Pierce(notes) took advantage of that 1-3 screen and roll to drop 32 with 11 rebounds, and the team had its chances. But Orlando had answers.

J.J. Redick(notes) nailed a series of 3-pointers, late. Brandon Bass(notes) hit a clutch turnaround jumper (he can do that) with the shot clock moving into the red. Dwight Howard freed himself for offensive rebound put-backs, and finishes off of lobs. Vince Carter's(notes) useless, and Jameer Nelson played well in using up all those possessions.

Yeah, Vince Carter's absolutely useless. Keep in mind that his 1-9 shooting night was right in line with what Hedo Turkoglu(notes) was giving the Raptors time and time again this season, but Carter was a pointless waste on the court during Game 4. Can he hit spot up jumpers blindfolded and at least compete defensively? Sure, you have to leave him on the court. Especially with Mickael Pietrus(notes) struggling to find his shot. But what a waste. What a stereotype, gone mad. I hate it when people act the same way, over and over again. English colloquialism.

Luckily for Vince, Howard managed 32 points, 16 rebounds, and four blocks. Nelson and Howard had 10 turnovers between them, but that can get better, just as long as the effort and the quick reactions sustain. Nelson has to keep turning that corner. Howard can't get himself entangled, Charlotte-style.

Can Orlando keep it up? Despite Carter's pathetic presence, I say yes. But a lot has to go right. Boston turned the ball over quite a bit in that final 17-minute turn, and Orlando has to keep an aggressive edge offensively that we haven't seen since, well, May 10 against Atlanta.

Not going to give the Magic props for hanging in there. I can understand why Boston took the first two, but it can't argue away Game 3. Game 4's tough victory does nothing to change that. The Magic knew what to do, and declined to do it; losing out on a home-court advantage grab-back in the process.

And if they're taking any warm feelings from this win, they're in deep, deep trouble.

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