ORLANDO - James Harden scored 38 points, made 15 of his 16 free throw attempts, dished out 12 assists and grabbed nine rebounds.
Sounds normal, right?
It is on the surface, considering the reigning league MVP has now posted more than 30 points and at least five assists in 16 straight games.
But, a deeper dive into the numbers tell a bit of a different story.
Harden shot just 1-of-17 (5.9 percent) from 3-point range. Never before in his career had he made only one three in a game in which he took at least 14 shots from beyond the arc. The only other time in NBA history a player missed 16 3-pointers in a game was on April 15, 2005 when Damon Stoudamire went 5-of-21 from distance against the Warriors while playing for the Blazers.
Many of Harden’s 3-point attempts were contested by his primary on-ball defenders, Evan Fournier and Wes Iwundu. Both did a great job forcing the six-time All-Star into tough step-back jumpers. When switched onto Harden, Aaron Gordon, Terrence Ross and Isaiah Briscoe were also terrific.
Fournier, who drilled a go-ahead 3-pointer from the corner with 2:37 remaining, is an underrated defender. So underrated that it’s not outlandish to suggest that he is one of the league’s top pick-and-roll defenders. He has excellent technique, the right amount of length and adequate foot speed – qualities that make it difficult for opposing guards to shoot over him or blaze past him. WATCH:
Iwundu shares those same defensive qualities. He, too, is long, active and up for any challenge. WATCH:
Many believe that it’s only a matter of time before the Magic become one of the league’s best defensive teams. They already rank near the top in several defensive categories, including opponent points in the paint and opponent points off turnovers.
With so many young, versatile players across the roster and a coach that demands constant defensive focus from his team, the Magic have all the prerequisites needed to be elite on that side of the floor, now and in the future.