Savage: Van Gundy Shines in Postseason Setting

By Dan Savage
April 29, 2012

INDIANAPOLIS -- Stan Van Gundy would be the first to admit that he’s not the most empathetic, calm or patient coach in the league.

However, if the Magic’s Game 1 victory over the Pacers reminded the world of anything, it’s that Orlando’s head coach can prepare his squad better than or as well as any leader in the NBA.

In this pivotal postseason chess match, Van Gundy dealt the first blow, assisting the Magic in claiming a piece that no one expected them to take from the Pacers: a Game 1 triumph on Indiana’s home floor.

Orlando looked a step ahead mentally most of the night, from their ability to get stops even when their shots were not falling to consistently finding open looks without any post-up advantages on the court.

“He’s unbelievable,” Quentin Richardson explained. “The amount of information we’re given, the preparation and how meticulous he is; it’s pretty unbelievable.”

One of Van Gundy’s shining moments on Saturday was a designed “closing door” play that provided the Magic with a critical 3-pointer from Jason Richardson.

With Orlando trailing 77-72, Van Gundy called timeout and drew up the pattern.

The play called for Glen Davis and Ryan Anderson to stand slightly apart at the free throw line. J-Rich was to slip up the middle of the floor, while the two big men would shut off the lane with solid screens.

The Magic executed the set with immense precision as Richardson drained the open look to bring Orlando within two.

“Coach drew that play up and I hadn’t touched the ball going into the fourth quarter, but I told myself I had to hit that shot,” J-Rich said. “The shot was good, but the screens were better. Glen and Ryan didn’t let the defense get through at all and it gave me all of the time that I needed.”

It’s been an interesting year for Van Gundy. He’s had to deal with immense trade speculation involving three-time Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard, the loss of his six-time All-Star center to season-ending back surgery and an assortment of injuries that have affected every member of Orlando’s starting unit.

But perhaps the most overlooked challenging aspect of the 2011-12 campaign has been the condensed schedule.

As Magic President of Basketball Operations Otis Smith consistently points out, one of Orlando’s biggest advantages over the past five seasons has been Van Gundy’s ability to prepare his squad better than the opposition.

With all teams operating under a condensed schedule this year, there have been very few practices and a shortened number of shootarounds. It’s a game plan that’s indirectly been forced on coaches throughout the league so that players have ample rest after appearing in countless back-to-back contests and enduring rigorous workweeks.

“You see so many things on the floor that you’re just not happy to see this time of year and you know that it’s not because people are not putting out the effort, you know it’s because you haven’t drilled and repeated things enough times to build good habits,” Van Gundy explained. “It’s hard for me, and I’m sure it is for a lot of the (coaches) in the league.”

With all the drama surrounding the Magic this season, it's almost astonishing that they're leading a playoff series. But with this squad's ability to rally in the face of adversity and their head coach's determination to keep them focused on the task at hand, they are certainly in the running for a First Round upset.

"Stan's done a great of controlling his emotions, better than other years," point guard Jameer Nelson said. "With the crazy season, Stan's done a great job of keeping his composure and coaching us the right way."

He's done an outstanding job of drilling home the point that their play on the court is the only thing this team can control.

After all, they're all they've got.

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