Game Notes: Heat at Magic
Not a rivalry… yet.
by Nada Taha
It didn’t take long for LeBron James to make his point.
By the end of the first quarter in Orlando, he had already tallied 23 points, was perfect from the field, and three points away from outscoring the entire Magic team.
It didn’t take much for him to garner extra motivation going into the Thursday night’s nationally televised match-up with the Heat’s in-state rival that ended with a 104-100 victory in their favor.
“Just playing this team got me going,” James said. “We understand that this wasn’t just any regular game. There was a lot of things said about us in the offseason that came from this organization. So, we just wanted to come in here and play to our abilities and make a statement.”
And he did. And with very little help.
It took him three quarters to get to 40 points. It took the Magic 42 minutes to start playing.
It wasn’t until an “explosive” and improbable comeback from Orlando with 6 minutes left that the game got interesting. James’ 51-point effort (his first 50-point game in a Heat uniform) was almost wasted as the Magic erased a 23-point deficit with their infamous beyond-the-arc baskets (five of six during a stretch in the fourth were treys) and defense that has otherwise been pretty lax in recent games.
“We showed character and fight. We didn’t lie down. We almost had them, but what it did show is that no matter what we’re down, we can crawl back but we just have to start from the beginning of the game,” Gilbert Arenas said. “Can’t let things get away from us where we have to crawl back. We have to come with that passion and energy in the beginning of our games.”
Despite scoring only one point in the second half, Dwight Howard pulled a Wilt Chamberlain (he played a full 48 minutes for the first time in a non-overtime game) and finished with 17 points and 16 rebounds. But the late rally, in addition to 15 missed Magic free-throws and Ryan Anderson missing a potential game-tying three-pointer with 6.9 seconds to go kept the Magic from sending The Heatles home with a loss.
Magic point guard Jameer Nelson led with 22, while Jason Richardson added 16. Two-thirds of Miami’s Big Three were virtually invisible — especially in the first quarter where Chris Bosh had 4 points and Dwyane Wade didn’t get a point on the stat sheet. They finished with 13 and 14, respectively, but only after Wade went down hard against Howard, injuring his lower back.
Although Magic fans tried to use their boos to quiet Heat fans’ MVP chants for LeBron, he quieted the Amway Center on his own by making jump shot after jump shot, dishing out 8 assists and grabbing 11 rebounds.
The crowd was silenced when James sunk a 26-footer in the face of Richardson after a strong Magic comeback brought them within six with 90 seconds left to play.
There wasn’t much Magic Coach Stan Van Gundy or the rest of the Orlando Magic team could throw at him to slow him down.
“If he makes jump shots, that’s fine,” Howard said. “We’d rather him shoot jump shots the whole game. If he makes ‘em, good for him.”
And he did. And with a lot of efficiency.
But there wasn’t much celebrating in the visiting team’s locker room after the game.
“We’re happy with our win, but we’re not satisfied with the way we finished out. We played 42 great minutes and the last 6 minutes we let our guard down,” James said. “We can learn from the last six minutes, but we can also learn from the first 42 minutes.”
Down the hall of the arena, the home locker room had a similar atmosphere: contentment with a side of disappointment.
“It wasn’t one of those phone comebacks where we’re down 23 and we just close it to eight; we had a shot to tie the game,” Van Gundy said. “And considering that we had no timeouts and the way we executed and got a great look, you have to take that.
“I’m not happy with the way we played the rest of the game, but the comeback was good and legit.”
Despite the disappointment, animosity and revenge, both teams agreed on one thing: It wasn’t a rivalry… yet.