In a series that many assumed would be quick and easy for the Indiana Pacers, the Dwight Howard-less Orlando Magic showed that they can still win games without their all-star center with an 81-77 Game 1 win in Indianapolis on Saturday night.
Quick Recap: Orlando led for most of the second and third quarters, but the Pacers battled back to take a seven point lead late in the fourth. The Magic responded by scoring the games final 11 points. Jameer Nelson and Jason Richardson led the way for Orlando with 17 points each, while David West paced Indiana with a game-high 19.
What it means for Orlando: Orlando desperately needed this game to prove to themselves that they are good enough to win this series without Howard anchoring the middle. With the win, the Magic have already swung home-court advantage back in their favor and now have a chance to go back home with a two games to none lead.
It’s encouraging for Orlando that Nelson was able to get into the lane at will. That being said, even when Nelson did get into the lane, he had to severely alter his shot to prevent it from getting swatted by Roy Hibbert or dump it off to Glen Davis, who also had trouble finishing at the rim. It’ll be interesting to see if Stan Van Gundy will continue to have Nelson penetrate the lane but look to kick out more to the three point shooters in coming games.
Orlando benefits by having three outstanding three-point shooters in Richardson, Ryan Anderson, and J.J. Redick. It looks like Van Gundy will feed whoever of the three has the hot hand (last night it was Richardson who went five for eight from beyond the arc), and if all three have it going, that could easily swing another game in Orlando’s favor.
I’m not sure if Davis has the conditioning to play 40 minutes a night in a playoff series. Most of the second half he was lightly jogging up the court. That means we will see more of Earl Clark (nine rebounds, four blocks in 20 minutes) and maybe even Daniel Orton going forward.
It is worrisome that Orlando only scored 30 points in the second half. All season long they were prone to going into offensive slumps, and even though the Magic were able to pull out the win, scoring 30 points in the half won’t win you most games.
What it means for Indiana: Their lack of playoff experience and a go-to star showed in the final minutes of the fourth quarter. With 24 seconds left and trailing by three, the Pacers settled for a jump-shot from ice-cold Darren Collison (one field goal all game) instead of looking to get the ball to Danny Granger (it’s assumed alpha dog) or David West (who dominated Orlando defenders all night long). If we learned anything from the Miami Heat last year, it’s that you need to have an identity in crunch time to be successful. I’m not sure Indiana does.
West’s play has to be encouraging for Indiana. He averaged 12.9 points per game this season, his lowest average since becoming a regular starter. But last night he scored 19 points on 8-for-14 shooting. He should have his way with the Orlando front court this series, as long as Indiana continues to feed him the ball.
Even though the Pacers let this game slip away, a silver lining is that they didn’t play well at all and only lost by four. Take West out of the equation and the rest of the team shot 22-for-73 from the field. Orlando’s defense isn’t that good. The Pacers will shoot better. They have to.
Roy Hibbert tallied up a playoff franchise record nine blocks, causing the Magic to only score 25 points in the paint all night. As long as Hibbert stays out of foul trouble, Orlando will continue to have trouble scoring the ball this series.
Even though this was only one game, Game 2 is a must win for the Indiana Pacers. It doesn’t matter who you are playing, it’s almost insurmountable to overcome losing the first two home games of a playoff series.