The Magic made a ridiculous comeback to make the finale of Game of the Eastern Conference Finals more competitive than the bulk of the game, but Orlando still dropped home court advantage and played anything but an impressive game. A Magic team that had been completely untouchable in the playoffs prior to this series now seems very beatable, provided the Celtics continue to defend.
One of the most discussed culprits for Orlando’s Game 1 demise was Dwight Howard’s post play. Howard, even at his most efficient, never quite seems at home in the post, and that’s fine. The responsibility in this case is not Dwight’s; it’s not prudent for him to do something completely unnatural or something as misguided as trying to bully Kendrick Perkins deep into the post.
Instead, Howard’s offense needs to be part of an adjusted system. The Celtics were ready for the Magic going into Game 1, and by eliminating the threat of Orlando’s three-point shooters, the C’s were able to win the day. The foundation of that plan eroded when Jameer Nelson started breaking down the defense, which is clearly an offensive development of the greatest import for the Magic.
Oddly enough, Nelson’s — and Orlando’s — success didn’t lean too heavily on the pick-and-roll. The 2009 series between the Magic and Celtics was greatly influenced by Stan Van Gundy’s ability to get Howard on the move, where he could use his athleticism to its greatest advantage. The same has been heralded as a potential Orlando adjustment for Game 2, but as usual, that won’t quite be enough.
According to Synergy Sports Technology, Orlando was only able to execute three pick-and-roll plays that ended with the roll man (only one of those plays involved Dwight Howard). In contrast, 21 pick-and-roll plays ended with the ball handler. That tells you that the Magic’s problem wasn’t necessarily the lack of frequency in running pick-and-roll plays, but that they struggled in executing them.
Howard can score down low, even if Game 1 wasn’t his finest performance. However, the Celtics are not going to double team him regardless of his effectiveness, meaning the endgame of Dwight’s dominance will only be his solo production. With Jameer penetrating though, all of a sudden Boston’s bigs have to rotate. Dwight’s open for the lob, or Rashard gets some room in the corner. The Celtics will continue to work and contest, but the shots will continue to get easier for the Magic if they’re willing to work with them.
There’s nothing wrong with a player like Jameer Nelson or Vince Carter creating for themselves off of a screen, but Orlando’s two-man game will have to be more balanced if their offense is going to make a true comeback tonight. Unpredictability can only be a good thing in this case, as the well-defended Magic pick-and-roll in Game 1 only generated 0.67 points per possession. Dwight’s horribly unrefined post-ups, for comparison’s sake, scored 0.79 points per possession.
Running more pick-and-rolls isn’t the answer, just like running more post-ups or more isolation plays isn’t the answer. Orlando needs to make the necessary adjustments, but just has to play better in Game 2 than they did in Game 1.
They’ve certainly given themselves room for improvement. Sebastian Pruiti of NBA Playbook broke down the video for some of the Magic’s early three-point attempts, which were shockingly good but just didn’t go down. Dwight caught plenty of rim on a number of and-one attempts, but the rolls didn’t go his way. Rashard Lewis was invisible, Vince Carter started off as a one-man show, and Matt Barnes really didn’t do anything constructive in his 15 minutes on the floor.
The rotation and approach will be tweaked, but this Magic team is good enough to expect other kinds of improvement. There’s enough talent there that you can expect more shots to fall for them even if Boston is on a roll defensively. The Celtics deserve credit for the defense in Game 1, but it wasn’t the only factor influencing the Magic’s subpar offensive production. Orlando did plenty to work against themselves, and only so much of that will be solved with schemes and lineups.