The Orlando Magic made a 17-point deficit disappear in the first half and then the Indiana Pacers' offense vanished into thin air during the final five minutes of the game, leaving the Pacers losers on the road, 106-98.
Stick with me as I shift to a little Indy Car analogy. For the uninitiated, Indy Cars have different fuel settings allowing the cars to run at different levels of performance depending on whether they're trying to save fuel or run up front. The best cars can stay within sight of the lead on a lower fuel setting and then eventually switch to full rich, meaning they're running wide open allowing them to track down and overtake a car with lesser equipment.
Throughout the third quarter, the Magic felt like a Penske or Ganassi car tucked in behind a Vision Racing car (Pacers), staying close without running on full rich. While still a one-possession game early in the fourth quarter, you could sense the Magic had raised their level of play to "full rich" and expected to overwhelm the Pacers.
The Pacers hung tough, though and appeared to frustrate the Magic as the hosts tried to impose their will on the game. With 4:58 in the game, T.J. Ford rose up to knock down a baseline jumper to give the Pacers a 96-94 lead. At that point, it appeared Ford may cap off a solid night by pushing the Pacers to an upset win.
Instead, Ford's shot was the last field goal the Pacers would make. Meanwhile, the Magic used back-to-back three-pointers from Rashard Lewis and J.J. Redick to pull away from the Pacers at winning time. In essence, the Pacers ran out of push-to-pass button boosts allowing the Magic to zoom past them to victory lane.
After the jump, back to straight hoops talk with more thoughts and observations from the loss.
- Let's start with Mike Dunleavy. Actually, Jim O'Brien started Mike Dunleavy, making the move because his minutes limit had been bumped up to 28 and Dahntay Jones was available but still feeling the effects of his hard fall in Washington. Dunleavy had another great outing and JOB used that minutes limit as a mere suggestion, using up 18 minutes in the first half and eventually playing 17 more than 33 minutes. While his shot betrayed him at time, Dunleavy still finished with 26 points.
- With Dunleavy starting the game, the first unit jumped out to a quick start at 12-2 on a 12-0 run. Within th first five minutes all five starters scored thanks to solid ball and player movement. For the Pacers first bucket of the game, things stagnated a bit and Dunleavy and Brandon Rush nearly bumped into each other on the perimeter. Dunleavy directed a little traffic and as Rush swung the ball to Ford on the perimeter, Dunleavy cut through the lane. When Ford's drive to the hoop was stopped, Dunleavy was there for a pass. His little hook missed but drew a defender which left Roy Hibbert open to dunk the follow. Can't help but think that possession would've ended with a jacked-up shot without Dunleavy involved.
- The free throw differential was an eyesore reminiscent of several games last season. The Magic shot 35 free throws compared to the Pacers' 10. Of course, Dwight Howard accounted for 22 of Orlando's freebies. Howard missed nine of those attempts, but was nothing short of a beast with 21 points and 22 rebounds. Still, you'd like to have more points than free throw attempts at the end of the night. I guess he'll take the win, though.
- Clark Kellogg made a great call at the start of the fourth quarter with the Pacers clinging to a two-point lead. He noticed that the Magic had only made five 3-balls and they averaged 10 per game. Sure enough, at winning time it was raining threes as the Magic made four, including the two daggers to decided it late.
- T.J. Ford nearly put together his best full game of the season, and in fact, maybe this was his best full game thus far, but it certainly wasn't complete. Ford did his part to push the Pacers out to a 17-point lead in the first half. The lead would dwindle to one at the break, but Ford had 11 points, 5 assists, 5 rebounds and zero turnovers. HUGE numbers compared to his recent production. He was unable to pick up where he left off in the second half, finishing with 13 points, 7 assists and 6 rebounds. Worse, he dribbled away a few critical possessions in the final five minutes making some poor decisions with the ball and game in his hands.
- Tyler Hansbrough had a rough shooting night making just 4 of 12 shots, finishing with 8 points and 6 rebounds. He seemed to really miss running with Dunleavy on the second unit. They did play some together but in the first half that second unit was lost.
- Roy Hibbert picked up 3 early fouls which nullified a pretty good start for the big fella. From there Hibby had minimal impact on the game.
- Former Pacer, Anthony Johnson and J.J. Redick were huge off the bench for the Magic. The relief backcourt tandem combined for 26 points and 12 assists. Redick also drained 3 of 4 three-pointers.