The Magic still didn’t put together a dominant single-game performance against the Charlotte Bobcats, but their combination of defense and timely three-point shooting was enough to get them a first-round sweep.
Charlotte once again did all the right things. They outscored the Magic 34-16 in the painted area. They matched the Magic in offensive rebounding. They only turned the ball over three more times than their opponent. They held Dwight Howard to six points in 23 minutes of floor time, and even managed to slow down Jameer Nelson to some degree.
In the end, though, Charlotte couldn’t find enough scoring to get a win in this series. Stephen Jackson, Raymond Felton, and D.J. Augustin couldn’t make the Magic pay for packing the paint, combining to go 6-26 from the floor.
Gerald Wallace and Boris Diaw gave the Bobcats some offense by slashing and hitting open jumpers. But as has been the story all series long for Charlotte, neither of them were able to carry the offense when the game was on the line. Ty Thomas led the team with 21 points off the bench, with most of those coming on baseline jumpers. Like I said regarding Larry Hughes in game three, there is a serious problem when Ty Thomas jumpers are your most reliable source of offensive production.
Orlando had their usual peaks and valleys offensively, following up three-point barrages with prolonged droughts. Normally Howard gives the Magic offense stability when their threes aren’t falling. In game four, however, he was once again rendered completely ineffective by foul trouble and Charlotte’s interior defense. I’m also perplexed as to why Larry Brown didn’t go to hack-a-Howard earlier in the forth quarter. The Bobcats were a few fouls away from the bonus, but the Magic were starting to make baskets and Howard has no idea which way is up on the foul line right now.
Just how streaky is Orlando’s offense? They started the game off by hitting four three-pointers en route to scoring 21 points in the first eight minutes of the game. They then went on to score four points in the next seven minutes of play. Orlando continued to trust the three-ball all game long; eventually, it worked out for them. As the Bobcats made their final push of the series, Mickael Pietrus hit two quick threes to stretch the lead from one to seven and put the Magic in control. After one more three by Jameer Nelson to put the Magic up double-digits, they were able to hold onto the lead without needing a field goal for the last five minutes of the game.
Give Charlotte credit for competing for the full 48 minutes. But in the end, the Magic were too much for them to handle in this series. Sometimes, grit and good coaching aren’t enough against a team as deep and talented as the Magic are.
Going forward, the best news in this game for Magic fans may be that Vince Carter finally got it going. He continued to struggle with his jumper early, but made some hard drives to the basket to put himself on the board. In the second half, Carter finally hit his first three of the series. He was able to splash in some mid-range jumpers after that, and ended up leading the Magic with a 21-point night.
There’s a glass half-empty/half-full way to look at this series for the Magic. On the one hand, they were able to sweep a pretty good team with their franchise player on the bench half the time and giving them nothing offensively. Their second-leading scorer struggled mightily as well. If the Magic can play this well without solid contributions from Howard and Carter, imagine what they can do if both of them play like they’re capable of playing. And don’t forget that not every team defends the paint like Charlotte does.
On the other hand, it is a little troubling that Howard is capable of playing so badly over four straight games. The free throws are particularly disturbing; if he’s not going to make 40% of his attempts from the stripe, teams are going to wrap him up every time he makes a move. The Magic were talented enough to get through the Bobcats with Howard playing like this, but they won’t make it very much further if he doesn’t start playing like the best center in the league.
Only time will tell if the optimistic or pessimistic view of the Magic after the first round is the correct one. As bad as the Magic looked offensively in this series, it’s clear that teams will have to do three things to knock the Magic out of the playoffs: Defend Howard, find a way to score in the paint consistently, and stop the Magic from raining threes. When Howard can’t score inside, the Magic can get quick points by hitting quick-trigger threes. When the threes aren’t falling, the Magic can dump it into Howard. When neither of those options are working, the Magic can weather the drought thanks to their defense. All of those things are going to make the Magic an extremely tough opponent for any team that faces them this postseason.