The Turning Point

A Blackberry snapshot of the t-shirted arena.

The most recent image of this nip-and-tuck series is Hedo Turkoglu's game-winning three-pointer with 1.1 seconds left on Sunday night. With that made shot, the Orlando Magic tied this series, 2-2. But what else did that shot ignite? By now, the play-by-play, and each team's thought process before and during, has been discussed. Here's the Cliff Notes: 

Orlando Magic coach Stan Van Gundy told his two guys -- Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu -- that whomever ended up with Thaddeus Young guarding them would shoot the last shot. We know what happened, the question now is: Will that motivate Thaddeus Young? I have to think at this point in the season, with this game as important as it is, this story line will play zero factor in tonight's game. If Young holds Lewis to an 0 for 12 night, perhaps we'll discuss it again. (Okay, of course we'll discuss it again.) But for the most part, I think each team should have enough motivation for tonight.

This series has been, perhaps, the best of the first-round series. Although Boston vs. Chicago, depending on your allegiances, has also been darn fine. But if you're a Sixer or Magic fan, this series has been an adrenaline rush. What has also been interesting to watch is the slight changes each team has made -- especially the slight changes the Magic made for Game 4.

Here are a few: 

For the first time in the series, Orlando had center Dwight Howard play a key defensive role on the Sixers' pick-and-roll. From the start of the game, when a pick-and-roll involved Andre Iguodala and a Sixers' center -- Samuel Dalembert, Theo Ratliff, Reggie Evans -- Howard jumped out on Iguodala, trying to force him to pick up the basketball. After the game, Iguodala said his centers were telling him they were open on the roll. Obviously, with Howard and a guard on him, it wasn't the easiest pass for Iguodala to make, but he said he discussed this option with Dalembert before their game-tying play with 14.8 seconds left. Dalembert told Iguodala, if they ran a pick-and-roll, he should be open on the roll to the basket. It wasn't the cleaniest, safest play, but Iguodala drove off the pick to the right wing, leapt into the air, and fired an overhead pass to Dalembert under the rim. It was a difficult pass with Howard on him as well as the trailing guard defender. Yes, on this play the Sixers capitalized on Orlando's adjustment, but for most of the game, they forced Iguodala to pick up his dribble, pass the basketball. Iguodala had his lowest point total of the series, although he contributed with assists and rebounds. Tony DiLeo said he would expect Orlando to continue this defensive scheme, and that the Sixers would need to take advantage, more, of that roll to the basket. As well as swinging the basketball for open outside shots. (Can the Sixers continue to shoot well from the three-point line? That might be the key to this game. If the Sixers go 1 for 8 -- as they did many games during the year -- this game will be Orlando's.)

The Magic also made a slight shift on offense. (And I credit an emailer for pointing this out in-depth.) Through three games, the Magic couldn't get much for Lewis. But in that third quarter of Game 4, you may remember, Sixers guard Willie Green ended up trying to match Lewis on the post -- a number of times. One time in particular, both Green and Lewis' main defender, Young, both went to Lewis, then both left Lewis, who shot a short, wide-open baseline jumper on the play. Orlando seems to have started running away screens between a guard -- guarded often by Green -- and Lewis. Since the Sixers often switch these screens, it leaves Lewis, on the block, against a much smaller player. Orlando took advantage of this a number of times in Game 4, although Lewis did not score as often as he probably would like.

DiLeo said they noticed a number of slight adjustments they would make for Game 5. He would not, of course, outline those adjustments.

In that Game 4, the Magic came out of halftime and made their first 7 shots, including 3 three-pointers. In that quarter, you had to wonder whether Orlando was about to explode for a 12 for 18 quarter, or somewhere along those lines. We know this team is capable of such an explosion. But they didn't. After that surge, they missed 1 of their next 8, then went on to miss a number of open shots that you would expect a third seed to make. Will Turkoglu's three-pointer start a shooting resurgence for the Magic? Will Turkoglu finally wake up and score 25 in this game? 

Speaking with some folks down here in Florida, they have been very impressed with the Sixers' defensive effort -- heck, their overall effort -- and many surprised me by saying they believe the Sixers are a bad matchup for the Magic. This is surprising only because entering this series, there seemed to be a sentiment that the Magic -- their perimeter-oriented, three-point shooting -- were a bad matchup for the Sixers. Here was their thinking: The Sixers are only one of a few Eastern Conference clubs whose forwards can legitimately match up with Orlando's. And considering Orlando's forwards are responsible for creating their offense, it's been a huge issue for them. Through four games, the Iguodala and Young have outplayed Turkoglu and Lewis. Which duo wins the forward battle these next couple of games?

So here's the setup down south here at Amway Arena. The Magic marketing department has placed blue t-shirts over the seats of half the arena and white t-shirts over the other half. Everyone I've run into has mentioned trying to make it to tonight's game. It sounds, and feels, like this is going to be a very difficult environment tonight for the Sixers. But, as they have proven all season, they seem to respond well to challenges, seem to be resilient, seem to like when everyone starts counting them out.