Sunday, April 29, 2012

Screw Home Court 'Advantage' in the 1st Round


No, seriously. Stan Van Gundy's Magic don't need it. Especially in the 1st round when nerves of expectations set in. Time and time again, Van Gundy's boys love playing the underdog role. Game 1 Saturday night was no exception. I've almost always preferred starting a postseason on the road because you have 2 games to get your act together before playing in front of our raucous home fans. If you win your 2 games at home, you've done what you're supposed to do and now have to somehow carry momentum into the next two on the road. However, if you can steal one of the first two on your opponent's home court, then you can rip their hearts out when the series shifts back to your home. This post isn't just in reference to the win in Indianapolis or the Magic's choke job last year to the Hawks, who stole Game 1 from us in Amway Center's postseason debut.


Oh yeah, you knew I'd bring Vince Carter into this. Don't make me talk about blowing back-to-back games at the O-Rena against Boston. That Game 1 was us sleepwalking and storming back only to fall short. At least we ended Amway Arena correctly and honorably with a Game 5 victory in 2010. Did we sweep the first 2 series before that? Well, yeah. But our swag level was through the roof against Charlotte and Atlanta. Plus, there was no way the Bobcats were upsetting us with Jameer going berserk. We were still owning the Hawks back then. It feels like a lifetime ago I know.


Remember our Finals run in '09? We lost Game 1 of the first round to the Sixers. A Dwight Howard suspension, a Hedo Game 4 dagger, and a smashing Gortat Game 6 start later and we survived a brutally difficult Philly series. For some reason, when we begin a postseason at home, the nerves just set in and we leave the door open for getting upset on our parquet. To build on the whole 'nervousness' factor when it comes to Game 1s of series, the Magic would then steal Game 1 in Boston and Game 1 in Cleveland. The 2-3-2 Finals format is the outlier of my post and I've always wanted it to be changed to the normal 2-2-1-1-1. Though if Courtney Lee makes that alley oop lay-up in Game 2, man. Still not convinced with me hating on 1st round home court?


Let's go into the time machine to 2008. Back when Tiger was an Amway Arena regular. The Raptors came to town to try and terrorize our postseason hopes. Orlando hadn't won a playoff series in 12 years. On pure adrenaline and spitfire shooting, we won Game 1. However, Game 2 should have been a defeat. Chris Bosh couldn't make us pay late. We left the door open for Toronto and thankfully they didn't rip our hearts out. It's not even an energy issue with us over the past 5 years. Shots won't go if you don't know how to deal with the amped up circumstances of playoff basketball. Stan is a good enough coach where even if we fail on the road the first two games, there's no reason to fret. Adjustments can be made and the players see home as a safe haven. While as the other way around, the pressure is on to not blow it at home out of the gate. 


If Stan Van Gundy is the "Master of Panic" as Shaq likes to repeatedly state, then I don't want to know what we should call Frank Vogel. Vogel is a smart dude, but I swear his eyes are filled with shear terror. Even at tip-off you can see the fear in Vogel's pupils. It's something to keep an eye on for Game 2 now. Trends are meant to be broken, but I pray that Van Gundy's undefeated record (in his entire NBA coaching career) of taking an entire series after winning Game 1 holds up. He's got the talent, the guts, and hopefully the smarts in this roster to accomplish that. 


I'd like to thank Earl Clark for making me look somewhat basketball smart for one night. His defensive presence at center was something fun to watch. Now just stop shooting jumpers, attack the rim, and work on free throws and you'll be earning big bucks in no time. The shocker of the night was clearly Jason Richardson. When guys like Redick and Ryno couldn't knock down a shot or get a decent look, there was Stan drawing up two outstanding plays from timeouts that freed up J-Rich who knocked down two outrageously clutch 3-pointers. 5-of-8 from downtown more than makes up for going 6-of-15 overall. Then you had Q-Rich doing what he does. Knocking down the occasional open look and playing lock-down defense. Hedo is clearly greatly irritated with his mask, and his shot wasn't as sweet as Thursday. However, Maskoglu made up for it all on the defensive end and keeping Granger in front of him late.


The great news out of this Game 1 win is that the Magic can improve...a lot. The help defense has to come harder, faster, and more consistently or Indy will torch us with long bombs. Jameer hasn't quite yet mastered weaving his way between the ridiculously tall and lengthy Pacers defense. Mighty Mite still played well enough to earn what should have been a double-double. Big Baby had his moments, put up a much-needed double-double all while he's noticeably hobbling. But Glen can't give Hibbert a vast chunk of 9 blocks again. Granted, a different officiating crew probably would've fouled Roy out Saturday night (but I won't nitpick if the refs since we won). Duhon is still horrendous and the Pacers will pressure Chris in the backcourt a lot more from here on out. SVG needs to get Ish out there, but if he keeps sticking with DuDu at least it'll be for 10 minutes maximum. Redick and Ryno can provide a hell of a lot more scoring support. I'm fearing both will disappear once again in the playoffs. It's just one game though. Indiana of course will not continue missing open shots. But then again, neither will we. The fact we held Indy to 34.5 FG% and won a game while we only shot about thirty-nine percent where we got out-rebounded, and out-transitioned is extra special. Remember, we couldn't keep anyone under 50% from the field without Dwight. Again, Indy won't miss wide open looks, but our guys moved their feet, plugged up holes in the paint, and flat out bamboozled the Pacers with help defense at times. Hey, it's better to be lucky than good at times, and well, we earned our luck to snag that first win. It's one of those playoff victories that's almost impossible not to celebrate rambunctiously if you're a Magic fan. Here's to 3 more in the coming week or so. Game 2 is Monday at 7:30 p.m. EST on NBA TV if you don't get the FSNMagic feed.

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