The Indiana Pacers refused to fade away against the Orlando Magic on Saturday night, but it was the Pacers refusal to stop the Magic all night that left them on the losing end of the 122-111 final score.
The combination of poor defensive execution and lights-out shooting by the Magic made success for the Pacers nearly impossible. How good was the home team shooting? According to Mark Boyle, the Magic's 64% shooting percentage from the floor is the highest FG% by a Pacer opponent...ever. Yeah, can I go to bed now?
Actually, the fact the Pacers kept this game in doubt until late in the fourth is crazy and yet another testament to the team's grit and refuse-to-die attitude. Unfortunately the team's identity has become give great effort, fight to the end, but lose. At least the palpable frustration we saw against Dallas was still apparent in Orlando. Continuing to care fuels the fight to the finish, win or lose.
As for what happened, the Pacers were down 18 points in the first half, which was no suprise since the Magic were shooting 71% midway through the second quarter. Hedo Turkoglu must've driven through a gaggle of Pacers ten times on his way to 27 points. Okay, maybe it was three or four, but it seemed like ten.
Dwight Howard was more Clark Kent than Superman tonight, but the splash fest from his teammates was enough to keep Howard's cape tucked away. From behind the arc, the Magic were quite efficient, splashing 12 3-balls in only 20 attempts. Daggers, all of them, and they spread the wealth with six different players making at least one three.
So just how did the Pacers avoid a 30-point blowout? Well, the Pacers were able to keep the game within 10-15 points through the third quarter. O'B went with an odd lineup that worked well and produced a nice run in the fourth quarter. Using Murph, Granger, Quisy, Rush, and Diener, the Pacers were small, athletic and stroking the three.
After the Pacers made a few threes of their own, the Magic lead was down to two at 93-91 with 9:08 left in the game. After a timeout the Pacers came up with a stop. So with a chance for the lead, Travis Diener missed a wide open corner three, but Granger hustled down the rebound. Danny snuck the ball out to a wide open Rush at the top of the arc, but his shot was off target as well. That was as close as the game would get for the Pacers.
Mike Dunleavy struggled as he once again battled through some injuries. Early in the third quarter, Dun tweaked his ankle. For a minute, I thought, good, now he'll go off. He did score a few but he was favoring the ankle, especially on defense. Then later in the game he really tweaked his knee which is always scary. Again, he returned but really had trouble moving laterally. He might need some miracle treatment to make it for the Knicks on Monday.
O'B's second half lineup shuffle wasn't the only tinkering he did. Flip Murray started at PG for the struggling Travis Diener. Took awhile for Flip to adjust and he wasn't the same shoot first player we've seen. Only problem is that he IS a shoot first PG. I'd really prefer to have Flip coming off the bench because of his sudden scoring ability which the second unit can use.
I flipped over to the Nets-Jazz game to see just how bad the playoff situation would look at the end of the night. The Nets pulled off a key win against the Utah Jazz with a late bucket from Richard Jefferson and a no call after Vince Carter whacked Mehmet Okur in the head on a three at the buzzer. So, the Pacers are now three full games behind the Nets for the last playoff spot with the Bulls and Hawks ahead of them. Math don't lie, so it isn't over, but the favorable schedule the rest of the way may not be enough to push the Pacers back in contention.