It’s not that the Bobcats scored 30 points in the first half against the Magic. It’s that it’s surprising they managed to score 30 the way they were playing.
Larry Brown promised that his team would be more aggressive attacking the basket against Dwight Howard and co. on Wednesday night. To put it mildly, that did not happen. In the first eight and a half minutes of the game, the Bobcats’ only field goal was a contested jumper by Stephen Jackson and their only free throw came from a defensive three-second violation. That’s not ideal.
In game one, the Bobcats settled for getting their forwards open looks from mid-range, but they weren’t even able to do that effectively on Wednesday. They were a mess. Charlotte doesn’t have a ton of talent on the offensive end; if they don’t at least play with discipline when they have the ball, they have no chance.
Charlotte was finally able to turn defense into offense late in the first, and had some success getting to the rim later in the game when Gortat was in for Howard. It still wasn’t enough to make the game competitive, and the Bobcats are going to have to find some way to score in the half-court against Howard if they want to make it a series. 29 field goals and 19 turnovers is not the recipe for wins in the playoffs.
The Bobcats kept the game close by playing good defense on Dwight Howard. The Magic went to him early and often in the post, as Stan Van Gundy promised they would. It ended up playing into the Bobcats’ hands, as they did a great job frustrating Howard with quick doubles, rotating when he passed out, and putting him on the line instead of giving him easy dunks and layups. It took Howard 10 shots and 12 free throws to get his 15 points, and he turned the ball over six times. He looked like he finally got comfortable on the block at the beginning of the third quarter, but promptly picked up his fourth foul and was forced to sit.
Howard was again in foul trouble thanks to some cheap loose-ball fouls, and only played 29 minutes. The surprising thing is that during the 19 minutes Howard sat, the Magic actually managed to out-score the Bobcats by 13 points. Howard is a great player who makes the Magic much better on both ends of the floor, but the Magic seemed more comfortable offensively when Howard sat on Wednesday.
It’s not a question of how good Howard is or isn’t in the post; it’s that challenging Charlotte’s interior defense plays into their greatest strength. When Howard sat, the Magic started making hard drives and taking quick three-pointers, putting the Bobcat defense on their heels and giving the Magic enough of a cushion to cruise to a victory. All of the Magic’s starters scored in double figures, and Mickael Pietrus came off the bench to nail three of the Magic’s 10 made threes.
As much attention as the Magic’s love of the three-ball gets, the Magic win with defense. They’ve shown that in the first two games of this ugly, ugly, series. When they get Howard going on the block, Carter and Nelson running the pick-and-roll offensively, and their octet of three-point threats making shots, they’re frightening. When they don’t have it going offensively, they can still ride their defense to wins over teams like the Bobcats.