Winning Game 2, undoubtedly, will be much more difficult than winning Game 1. In the last three days, we've seen the Dallas Mavericks, in their bid to go up 2-0, lose badly to San Antonio. We've seen the Chicago Bulls, despite an amazing performance from Ben Gordon, lose their bid to go up 2-0 on the Boston Celtics. The task of winning two games on a top seed's home floor is daunting. And that's what the 76ers face tonight against the Orlando Magic.
If we take a look at Sunday's result, we can find a number of areas with solid execution. And areas with subpar execution -- for both teams.
For the Magic, the good: Free throw shooting. Dwight Howard was 9 for 12, that's about three more free throws than he makes on average. Low-post scoring from Howard. We all know he is amazing on the boards and blocking shots, but he doesn't always provide an efficient low-post scoring option in terms of giving him the ball and letting him execute a low-post move. On Sunday, he was 11 for 13, including a number of difficult shots. Scoring from Courtney Lee and Anthony Johnson. Those two average a combined 13.7 points per game. On Sunday they combined for 27. Orlando also had 15 second-chance points.
For the Magic, the bad: Three-point shooting. They finished 5 for 18, 27.8 percent. On the season, they shoot 38 percent and have made 817 three pointers. Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis combined for 1 for 6 from the three-point line. Hedo didn't make any. Also subpar for the Magic, Hedo scored only 6 points, and 4 of them were down the stretch. For most of the game, he was non-existent. He has the ankle injury, but for a guy averaging 16.8 ppg to score only 6 is a huge blow on the offensive end, especially considering Lewis does not often create his own shots. Bench play. They had only 13 points off the bench, nine from Johnson and four from Tony Battie. J.J. Redick played 6 pretty bad minutes and contributed a turnover to the Sixers comeback. He didn't even attempt a shot.
For the Sixers, the good: Outside shooting. 7 for 12? Two more than the Magic? Yeah, that was a huge difference. Donyell Marshall and Lou Williams (6 for 7 combined) were the difference here. Bench play. The Sixers killed the Magic off the bench, scoring 42 points off the bench, led by Williams' 18 points. Overall FG percentage. The Sixers shot 51.3 percent for the game. Rebounding, the Sixers outrebounded Orlando, 37-35. Turnovers, the Sixers committed only 10 turnovers, most of those in the third quarter.
For the Sixers, the bad: Free throw shooting. To win the game and shoot 11 for 20 (55.0 percent), is an amazing thing. Running in transition. The Sixers scored only 9 points on the break, which is crucial since that means they had to mostly attack with Howard defending the lane. Consistency. Getting blown out in that third quarter, 29-19. Trailing by 18 points. That combination is not one from which the Sixers will normally be able to produce victory. Samuel Dalembert. He picked up two quick fouls and played only 17 minutes. Theo Ratliff did a fantastic job in his 24 minutes, but you have to wonder how many games the Sixers can win with Dalembert non-existent. Willie Green. Some games he starts 5 for 6 and gives the team a huge boost. On Sunday, he was 1 for 6. You even have to say that Andre Miller wasn't at his best, although he finished with 15 points and 7 assists. You could expect more from him.
So both teams can look at Sunday's game and say they didn't play as well as they wanted. And it seems both teams, in the three-day layoff, had the time to address every one of these things. Having listened to what the Sixers side has been saying the last two days of practice and at this morning's shoot around, a couple of things stand out. Here they are:
1.) They were in this position last year against the Detroit Pistons. They won Game 1 at Auburn Hills, then lost Game 2. Nobody would claim the Sixers are an experienced playoff team, but they at least have some experience of what an arena is like in this circumstance, what kind of changes the other team makes, and what kind of mindset is needed. Maybe last season they were thrilled to win that first game and weren't sure what to expect the next game. This year, they don't seem as thrilled, they seem eager to prove it wasn't just a fluke.
2.) They really focused on how they got down 18 points. From watching, that third quarter seemed a lot like how they were playing in the six-game losing streak: no communication, bad shot selection, general frustration. Tony DiLeo said, immediately after Sunday's win, that they would focus on that quarter, try to prevent that from happening again.
3.) It sounds like they will still go one-on-one against Howard. Howard scored 31 points, but the Sixers seemed pleased with the shots they made him take (other than the dunks). And they seemed to feel comfortable with being able to focus their other guys on Orlando's perimeter shooting.
Which brings us to the reality check: Orlando's outside shooting. To me, that's the most important thing in Game 2. I admit the Sixers played with much more energy on their defensive rotations on Sunday, but it still wasn't great. The Magic still had about 6-8 open three-pointers that they just missed. I would be surprised to see another poor shooting night from the Magic. Obviously, that's the difference in the game. If the Magic go 9 for 20 tonight, that's 12 more points they are putting on the board. I just don't know the Sixers have the offensive firepower to score 111 points against a very good Orlando defense.
Here are a couple of other thoughts.
1.) Can the Sixers get Howard into foul trouble? He is prone to foul trouble, and the Sixers mentioned the last couple of days that they will continue to attack the rim, to go at Howard's body and see if they can draw fouls.
2.) This is just a thought, but do the Magic have the same mental fortitude that the Boston Celtics have? I don't think so. They haven't been through it all like Boston has. If Ben Gordon and the Bulls had done what they did to the Celtics against the Magic, I think they win Game 2. So you have to ask: If the Magic are going to develop that postseason mentality, who will lead them? Will it be Dwight Howard? Will it be Turk?
The Sixers seem to know who their go-to guy is ... it's Andre Iguodala. Keep an eye on him tonight. His follow-up performance to Sunday's game-winner will say a lot about whether the Sixers are in this series, or whether they will go the way of last year's first-round attempt.
p.s. The photo is off the O-rena about three hours before tip-off. The Magic staff have placed white towels across all 17,461 seats. So look for a sea of white tonight on NBATV/Comcast.