INDIANAPOLIS (AP)—Tracy McGrady has already established himself as one of the most athletic and prolific scorers in the league. His next mission is to get Orlando out of the first round of the playoffs.
“I’m ready for any challenge thrown my way,” McGrady said. “We’re a young team and I hope these guys really understand the playoffs are another season. It’s not going to be as easy as it was during the regular season.”
Orlando hasn’t got past the first round of the playoffs since 1996.
The Magic turned the game around in the third, going on a 14-4 run to take a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. They let the Pacers pull within one midway through the fourth, but Pat Garrity hit a jumper and a 3-pointer to push the lead back to six.
Another 3-pointer by Garrity, who finished with 11 points, made it 86-75 and the Magic cruised from there. They finished the series 1-2 against the Pacers.
McGrady was in a funk his past three games at Indiana, scoring only 37 points on 28 percent shooting (14-for-50). In the first two games this year in the season series, McGrady was held to a total of 36 points—more than 14 points below his season average.
His final numbers from the floor Friday weren’t much better—only 11-for-32—but he seemed to find his groove by settling in beyond the 3-point line. He got going early in the first hitting consecutive 3-pointers, from the left baseline and the top of the arc. He added two more in the second, sinking four of five in the half and 5-for-10 overall.
“We want to go into the playoffs with a lot of confidence and playing well,” McGrady said. “I feel we can win any series and we just have to believe that.”
Both teams are jockeying for playoff positioning. The Magic entered the game in the seventh spot, only a game ahead of Milwaukee, while the Pacers were the fourth seed. With Philadelphia’s loss to New York, the Pacers could have moved into a tie for third.
Instead, they let another one slip away. The Magic shot only 38 percent from the field, but capitalized on those misses, outscoring the Pacers 16-5 on second-chance points.
That left normally mild-mannered Pacers coach Isiah Thomas fuming, accusing his players of being more interested in reading the stat sheet and watching highlights of themselves on TV.
“I told them that I thought they had become one of the most selfish groups of players that I have seen in a while,” Thomas said. “I think the way we’re playing now offensively is just selfish. We don’t move the basketball, we don’t set screens for each other, we don’t share.”
Indiana’s locker room was quiet with the televisions, normally showing various NBA games, turned off. Most of the players made an early exit and those who stuck around, like O’Neal and Al Harrington, blew off the media.
Thomas said he was searching for answers.
“One of the toughest things to get young players individually and collectively to do is think team,” he said. “Everybody is trying to make their mark. Everybody wants to be an All-Star and show what he can do. Right now, that’s what’s hurting us.”
The Pacers did lead by 15 in the second quarter, until Orlando chipped away with a 10-0 run to end the half.
McGrady was fouled by O’Neal on a 3-point attempt with 15.8 seconds left in the first half. He hit all three, pulling the Magic to 46-45 at the half, but it was O’Neal’s third foul.
Another 3 by McGrady early in the third tied the score at 48. Four minutes into the half, O’Neal was whistled for his fourth personal and was benched for the rest of the quarter.
Without O’Neal in the lineup, the Magic went on their run and held a 72-65lead at the end of the third.
Pacers G Ron Mercer did not play because of a strained lower back. … Orlando F Drew Gooden sat out with a sprained big toe and tendinitis in a knee. … Pacers G Tim Hardaway left late in the first half with back spasms and did not return. … O’Neal said he was honored to be asked to join the 2004 U.S. Olympic men’s basketball team. … The Pacers had their sixth sellout of the year. … There were five players in the game who went straight to the NBA from high school. Indiana’s Bender, O’Neal and Harrington and Orlando’s McGrady andShawn Kemp. … O’Neal had his 42nd double-double. McGrady had his 17th.