Over the course of his career, Vince Carter has made a habit out of coasting through big games, wilting down the stretch, and playing like a milquetoast wimp.
Nothing has changed this season, where Carter’s frequent disappearing acts have put a damper on the Orlando Magic’s hope for a fairy tale ending.
Carter’s timidity was on full bore as he drifted through a listless 1-5, three point performance over the first 42 minutes against the Cleveland Cavaliers. He refused to attack the rim, was absent on many help assignments, and mustered no competitive fire whatsoever.
It appeared as if the Magic would lose their third straight game to the Cavs this year, and would look less and less like viable contenders to Cleveland’s potential Eastern Conference stranglehold.
Then, out of absolutely nowhere, Mount Carter erupted and willed the Magic to victory.
- After a 1-2 high screen with Jameer Nelson, Delonte West picked Carter up on a switch. Carter promptly backed him down and earned a foul, making two free throws.
- Another 1-2 screen and switch allowed Carter to spin to the baseline and drive to the basket where he emphatically delivered a powerful dunk which roused his competitive juices.
- Another Carter post up on Anthony Parker led to a difficult fade away jumper which VC swished.
- The same 1-2 screen gave Carter a lane to the basket where he finished with strength and self-control over Antawn Jamison who moved over looking to take a charge.
- After Shaq switched onto Carter after an elbow screen, he knew Dwight Howard was guarded by smaller defenders, took his time for Howard to open up, and threw an accurate lob which resulted in a catch, foul, and one free throw made.
- A drive and kick out to the corner led to Rashard Lewis’ game-clinching three.
The criticism with Carter isn’t that he can’t do what he did against the Cavs, but that he doesn’t do that enough. Instead of using his wondrous talents to dominate in the paint, Carter often drifts through games, is scared to finish at the rim, and is far-too-often often a non-factor for somebody with his prodigious talents.
While his help defense is still horrendous, when Carter attacks on offense the way he did in the fourth quarter, he allows the Magic to compete with and beat any team in basketball.
The emphasis for Orlando is for Carter to continue to play with the same kind of fire he displayed against the Cavs. Unfortunately for Magic fans, often times, those rare glimpses of greatness Carter delivers disappear as quickly as they come.
Carter wasn’t Orlando’s other hero. Here are the other reasons why the Magic won:
Why Orlando Won
- Jameer Nelson proved how clutch he is by making huge shot after huge shot—three jumpers in the final six minutes, including two threes.
- Rashard Lewis is another member of Orlando’s clutch corps, and his three with 20 seconds to go was the nail in Cleveland’s coffin.
- Dwight Howard struggled in his post defense on Shaquille O’Neal, but his help defense was extraordinary—four blocks, and countless more altered. Most impressive was Howard’s rotations on LeBron James. Whereas LeBron is used to running through brick walls (and obliterating smaller defenders), he bounced straight off Howard’s steel frame and found himself begging for calls on drives to the rim.
- Deterred because of Howard, only three of LeBron’s shot attempts came inside the paint in the second half. LeBron frequently overhandled (as did many of his teammates) and forced jumpers despite misfiring on nine of his 12 shots from outside the paint.
- Aside from his solid help defense, and stellar board work—16 rebounds—Howard displayed an assortment of post moves. He decimated Anderson Varejao on left hooks from the right box, and on the left box showed a nice shimmy into a right-hook, several quick face-and-go’s driving left, a 12-foot made jumper, to go with his power moves near the rim. For the game he finished with 7-15 FG, 8-13 FT, 22 Pts, two assists, and zero turnovers.
- Also, James’ six assists were neutralized by his five turnovers.
- It should be noted that many of Cleveland’s early attempts to double team Howard were weak and ineffective, with Jamison as the main culprit.
- Mickael Pietrus came to play, with a buzzer-beating putback to end the third quarter, and a pair of threes among his 5-6 shooting, 13-point performance.
- Cleveland couldn’t buy a basket from downtown—3-16 3FG—despite many open looks.
- Cleveland’s guards simply didn’t show up. Mo Williams shot 1-9 and Delonte West shot 2-9.
- Cleveland had trouble spacing the floor for their post players. With Shaq in the post, and J.J. Hickson on the floor, Orlando would drop Rashard Lewis into the passing lane to effectively double team Shaq before he caught the ball. Hickson was left wide open, but missed the resulting jump shot. The same tactic was employed with Varejao on the floor, but Varejao only went 1-2 on wide open 20-footers.
- After a flurry of points from Jamison when posting Lewis, Orlando fronted Jamison. Because Shaq or Varejao aren’t floor spacers, Orlando dropped Dwight Howard behind Jamison to discourage the Cavs from feeding him the ball.
- Orlando proved that sometimes when you score is more important than how much you score.
Why Cleveland Almost Won
- Orlando’s transition defense was atrocious. Orlando’s guards were too scared to get in front of LeBron James and stop him from going coast to coast for several full court layups.
- Jameer Nelson frequently made bad decisions with the ball. Forcing entry passes into wedged teammates, forcing shots, not taking driving lanes to the basket, and losing his handle several times for unforced turnovers. Combined with Jason Williams, who also lost his handle for an unforced turnover, seven of Orlando’s 13 turnovers came from their primary ball handlers and decision makers.
- Rashard Lewis—5-12 FG, 2-6 3FG, 3-4 FT, 15 PTS—disappeared for long stretches and is only sometimes involved in the offense. As a result, he forced several threes feeling that it was his time to shoot.
- Antawn Jamison destroyed Lewis in the post, and made four straight baskets to start the third quarter. Jamison also made a three on a screen/fade, and showed a level of versatility that will be tough to contend with as the Cavs move forward.
- A botched call on a block/charge gave Jamison his fifth foul early in the fourth, forcing him to an extended stay on the bench.
- Mo Williams was as awful on defense as he was on offense. His worst transgression? Going under a Jameer Nelson screen, affording Nelson one of his endgame triples.
- Aside from Dwight Howard, the Magic were soft in every facet.
- Cleveland outrebounded the Magic 43-34.
Should Vince Carter’s fourth quarter be the norm and not the exception, Orlando has the interior defense, the firepower, and the moxie to win the season’s final game. Unfortunately, since Carter only offers brief teases of his talents, it’ll be a lot to ask of the rest of the Magic to come out of the East.
Meanwhile, Cleveland took a trip back to last year’s Conference Finals, where LeBron’s failed jumpers, Mo Williams’ dismal play, and Cleveland’s inability to contest Orlando’s late-game threes doomed them. If the pattern repeats itself in the postseason, not even Antawn Jamison will be able to save the Cavs.