Denton: Magic-Heat Postgame Analysis

By John Denton
March 3, 2011


MIAMI – When shots incredibly started falling in bunches and the defense on LeBron James and Dwyane Wade dramatically rose to suffocating levels, the Orlando Magic’s belief swelled that they could possibly pull off something historic Thursday night.

Remarkably, a Magic team given up for dead when it trailed the rival Miami Heat by 18 points at halftime and by as much as 24 points in the second half awoke from its slumber and pulled off a comeback win for the ages.

A second half that started as ``a playing for pride thing,’’ as Ryan Anderson put it, morphed into a monumental night as Orlando registered the second greatest comeback in franchise history and shockingly beat the hated Heat 99-96 at American Airlines Arena.

Once down 73-49 early in the third quarter, the Magic used runs of 22-7 (to end the third period) and 18-2 (to start the fourth quarter) – a shocking 40-9 spurt in all – for what very well could be the biggest regular-season victory in franchise history.

``It was about us imposing our will on them,’’ said point guard Jameer Nelson, who had 12 of his 16 points in the second half. ``When you start making shots you are going to have confidence, but it was about us imposing our will on defense and taking the challenge. This comeback shows what we’re capable of doing when we’re zoned in and willing to do it.’’

The 24-point rally just missed equaling the all-time Magic record. Orlando’s comeback from 25 points down on Nov. 8, 1989 in Cleveland is the all-time franchise record. This victory easy outdistanced the Magic’s previous biggest rally of the season – a battle back from 16 points in Dallas on Jan. 8.

``This is one of these games that I’ll still remember 10 years from now when I’ve already forgotten everything but all of the losses,’’ giddy Magic coach San Van Gundy said through a chuckle. ``I’ll always remember this win.’’

Orlando (40-22) won for a fourth straight time, but only because they held James (29 points) and Wade (28 points) to just a combined 10 points in the second half after the dynamic Heat duo had 47 points in the first half. Wade (0 for 6) did not have a field goal in the second half and James (0 for 2) did not score in the fourth quarter. James missed a wide-open 3-pointer with 3.3 seconds remaining, giving the Magic the victory and setting off a wild celebration at midcourt and later in the locker room.

``It was definitely a great show of resilience by the team,’’ said Magic forward Quentin Richardson, who hit a crucial 3-pointer with 2:41 to play and generally made life miserable for James with his defense. ``We got down against a great team, but we didn’t go away. I’ve been in the league long enough to know there’s another half to play. We said, `Let’s keep making shots, play good defense and keep chipping away. It was huge for us to do what we did.’’

The Magic, who evened the season series with Miami at 2-all, got 24 points and six 3-pointers from shooting guard Jason Richardson. Point guard Jameer Nelson scored 12 of his 16 points in the second half. Superstar center Dwight Howard had 14 points, 18 rebounds and five blocks and his biggest contribution might have been his season-high five assists out of Miami double teams.

``I remembered our first game here (a 96-70 loss on Oct. 29) and I told the guys before the game that we couldn’t get embarrassed like that again,’’ Howard said. ``I thought they were going to do that to us again most of the night, but thank God that we were able to wake up and get a big win.’’

Things don’t get any easier Friday night when the Magic host the Chicago Bulls (41-18) at the Amway Center.

Here’s a look back at what went right, what went wrong and some final observations from a victory that will go down in Magic history as one of the greatest ones ever:

WHAT WENT RIGHT

  • Richardson played a massive role in the comeback, scoring 11 points with three 3-pointers in the 22-7 spurt late in the third period that cut the deficit from 24 points to nine points. Then, Richardson drilled two more 3-pointers early in the fourth quarter to get the Magic within three points of the lead.

    Richardson made all five of his 3-point shots after halftime and scored 17 of his 24 points during the monumental second-half rally.

    ``This is just so special what we were able to do here on the road,’’ Richardson said. ``We just hung in there, battled and made some shots. Coach challenged us to challenge Wade and LeBron harder because we were too lax defensively early in the game. It’s just huge getting a win like this.’’

  • The Magic’s defense on Wade and James could not have been much better than it was in the second half, paving the way for the big rally.

    In the Magic’s first loss to the Heat back in October, it was Wade who did most of the damage with 26 points coming mostly on jump shots. And when the Heat beat the Magic a second time in February, it was James who shredded Orlando with 51 points and a bevy of jumpers from all corners of the Amway Center.

    On Thursday, in the final regular meeting between the two Sunshine State rivals, it was both James and Wade hitting shots from all over the floor early in the game, seeming to spell doom for the Magic.

    But in the tense moments of the second half, the Magic were able to push up into Wade and affect his jump shots. And with Howard controlling the paint with his five blocked shots, James couldn’t get into the lane.

    ``Those two guys had 47 between them in the first half and shot a real high percentage,’’ Van Gundy said. ``But in the second half they shot 30 percent and those two guys combined for 10. Our guys kept fighting and it’s just an incredible win. It was one of those nights when the all of stars aligned.’’

  • Anderson was the lone bright spot early on for the Magic, scoring 13 points in the first half. He had three threes and got to the free throw line twice early in the game, and making Miami forward Chris Bosh pay for cheating inside on Howard.

    Anderson’s follow-up tip put Orlando ahead 84-82 – its first lead since the game was 19-17 in the first quarter.

    ``A game like this and a comeback like this shows that we don’t give up, we’re relentless and when we get on a run we can really be hard to guard as a team,’’ Anderson said. ``This was a game that most teams would have given up on, but as we kept getting closer we gained confidence. We’re a team of runs and a dangerous team.’’

  • WHAT WENT WRONG

  • The Heat seemed to make every jump shot in the first half – even a 70-footer from Mike Miller to end the second quarter. Replays determined that the shot came after the buzzer, but it was that kind of first half for Miami and Orlando as well.

    Wade made 10 of 12 shots for 24 first-half points, while James made eight of his first nine attempts and scored 23 in the first 24 minutes. The rest of the Heat had just 16 points in the first half, but it didn’t matter as Miami stroked in 61.5 percent of its shots.

    Wade and James combined for 26 points in the second quarter – three more than the Magic had as a team in the period.

    ``We didn’t look like a competitive NBA team in the first half,’’ Van Gundy said. ``We were so far down at halftime we just talked about wanting to challenge them and be more aggressive. If you looked at the tape from the first half on their jump shots we were 6 feet off them and we weren’t even challenging them. They got whatever they wanted. It was just a lack of aggressiveness and intensity. But we picked that up in the second half. We just talked at the half about competing harder.’’

  • FINAL OBSERVATIONS

  • Van Gundy started the fourth period with Gilbert Arenas and that decision looked to be a bad one when the veteran point guard turned the ball over three times in the first 82 seconds.

    But he redeemed himself with two 3-pointers during the 18-2 run to open the fourth quarter.

    For the game, Arenas had 11 points and three 3-pointers.

  • In a span of five days, the Heat blew a 15-point lead in a home loss to the New York Knicks and a 24-point lead in another disgraceful faltering against the Magic. And their last loss before those two collapses was blowing an 11-point second half lead in Chicago.

    On Thursday, the Heat didn’t have a point for a 6-minute, 14-second stretch of the fourth quarter, paving the way for the big collapse.

    ``We continue to get big leads and we continue to falter,’’ James said. ``We’re getting great looks, but we’re not making them. Teams are making shots against us. Hopefully, we can figure it out soon. Hopefully, this will make us a better team.’’

    Added Wade: The urgency is there. We’re going through this growing pain and it (stinks). You look for the light at the end of the tunnel. Right now, we have to figure out a way and get wins.’’

  • Magic forward Brandon Bass was also a hero in the win for the way he defended Chris Bosh in the game. Bosh, a Magic killer in years past, made just five of 15 shots for the game and three of 10 in the second half.

    ``Just a helluva comeback us and a case of this team showing great mental toughness,’’ said Bass, who was congratulated for his defense after the game by Magic assistant coach Brendan Malone. ``I watched a lot of film and clips on Bosh with (assistant coach Steve Clifford) and it helped me learn what he was going to do. I pretty much have to guard an all-star every night, so I have to try and get an edge. Coach stressed to stay down on the pump fakes and I was able to do that.’’

    John Denton writes for OrlandoMagic.com. E-mail John at jd41898@aol.com. Submit a question to John for his mailbag segment at AskJD@orlandomagic.com.