Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Jefferson & Millsap Carry Jazz Over Orlando

The first 4 seasons of Jacque Vaughn's NBA playing career were under the tutelage of the legendary Jerry Sloan with the Jazz. Coach Vaughn made his return to Salt Lake City as the Magic were playing their third game of this 5-game Western Conference trip against a Utah side that is always difficult to beat at home. Orlando wouldn't exit Utah with a win as the Magic lost 87-81 to the Jazz. Fifty-three of those eighty-seven Utah points belonged to Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap. That's astounding output from the Jazz starting big men. 24 fourth period points wasn't enough for Orlando, despite it being their best scoring quarter of the game. Orlando was led by 18 points and 12 boards from Glen Davis. Jameer Nelson fought hard for his 17 points. Arron Afflalo managed 16 points, but only four of those came in the second half. JJ Redick posted 14 points off the pine. Lack of ball movement and not being able to knock down open looks down the stretch ultimately doomed Orlando. Despite the hideous lulls of production, the Magic were very much in this contest.

It seemed appropriate that Al Jefferson would torch Orlando for a season-high 31 points as well as 15 rebounds, then fall down like a chopped tree holding his injured lower back in the final minute and a half when Utah was up four after Al made two straight tough buckets against Vucevic. Nik finished with just 6 points but hauled in 16 boards. The now 7-11 Magic wouldn't recover and it wouldn't matter that Jefferson's health didn't either. Al did what was necessary to ensure Utah would ascend to 10-10. 20 turnovers and an appalling 1-for-15 from 3-point range are what crushed Orlando's slim chances at snatching victory. Despite the hard effort, it just wasn't meant to be as Orlando hasn't won in Utah since 2008. Magic are 0-8 when not draining five or more 3-pointers.

Orlando couldn't find their offensive identity for much of the contest as Utah did a superb job rotating over and breaking up pick-and-roll sets. The Magic shot an appalling 3-for-12 shooting early. Jerry Sloan's Jazz teams didn't run uptempo offense anywhere near as much as Tyrone Corbin is managing to instill into his current squad. Orlando had an abysmal quarter and trailed 24-15 after one as Utah continuously found a way to get easy buckets at the rim. Afflalo had a solid 8-point period.

In my preview of this matchup, I said the winner of this contest would be determined by who had the better frontcourt production. The second period saw Paul Millsap have his way with Andrew Nicholson and Big Baby. 16 points at the half for Millsap as he'd tally twenty-two total in the end. Orlando was down 45-31 past the 3-minute mark, then Al Jefferson got an unnecessary technical foul. Still, Al had a strong 8 & 10 first half while 'Vooch' and Baby combined for just 6 points and a fair 16 rebounds at the break. Had Jameer not been knocked out of the game by Mo Williams' head, I'd like to think the deficit would've only been single digits. Always have to be on concussion alert with Nelson. Thankfully for Jameer, he would only have to deal with swelling above his left eye. 

When you shoot just 35.9 FG% in the first half, get destroyed on the fastbreak 13-0, miss 4 free throws, shoot 1-of-9 from 3-point range, and cough up 6 more turnovers, it's a tiny miracle Orlando only trailed 45-34 as they headed into the locker room. Josh McRoberts and Kyle O'Quinn didn't see any court time in those first 24 minutes, and you wonder if they could've defended Marvin Williams and Millsap better. 

Al Jefferson would mimic Millsap by pouring in a ridiculous 17 points in the third period. No vertical leap? No problem. Jefferson couldn't be stopped. However, a 10-2 Orlando run midway through the 3rd period placed the Magic in prime position for another comeback attempt down just 5. E'Twaun has been ice cold from the perimeter of late, and his ball handling was particularly poor. Uncharacteristic turnovers would prevent the Magic from reeling the Jazz in, trailing 68-57 heading into the final twelve minutes. 

Orlando should have allowed Jeremy Evans to take more shots earlier. He missed a few gimmes to begin the 4th period and Orlando began to claw back in. Unfortunately for Orlando, Coach Corbin was smart enough to yank Evans out of the remainder of the contest. Going into Wednesday night, Orlando was 3rd in the NBA in most 4th quarter points scored on the road with 27. For the first six minutes it didn't look like the Magic would be able to chip away at that Utah cushion. What a few 'And 1s' from Glen and JJ can do. Orlando ended up with the ball down just 77-78 with 3:43 to go at Energy Solutions Arena. The blue and white men would momentarily take the lead thanks to Big Baby lay-up off a Redick pass before Randy Foye picked the ideal time to drill a 3-pointer as his first field goal make on the evening. From there it was all Al Jefferson. Orlando has to find a way to shake this off as they travel to Sacramento for a Friday rendezvous against the Kings. Record wise, Sacramento should be the most 'winnable' game on this 5-game road schedule. That's why they play the game. 

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