NBA Playoffs, Magic-Bobcats Game 2: Beautifully Hideous

I was never expecting an Orlando-Charlotte series to be pretty, and I wouldn’t expect you to either, unless both teams forcing each other into some terrible, terrible offense is your idea of beauty.

Which actually brings up an interesting point: Defense can be impressive, but can it ever really be beautiful? The Spurs have played great defense for the better part of the decade, and that infallible strength compounded with their historically slow pace made them “unwatchable” to the casual fan, even if die-hards alternatingly applauded Tim Duncan for his greatness and beat their heads against their coffee tables as Duncan bested their team again. The 2008 Celtics played some of the best defense I’ve ever seen, but I think I’d exhaust every possible synonym for “fearsome” before I even thought about thinking about possibly maybe using the word ‘beautiful.’

If I had to pick the two teams in recent memory that play beautiful defense, they’d be the 2009 Lakers (Ron Artest is too awesome at mucking games up) and these Orlando Magic. There’s just something about watching the Magic operate when they’re at their defensive best that’s so much more aesthetically pleasing than than other defensive giants.

Obviously not when they’re playing the Bobcats, though.

Charlotte excels at making every team look bad, and manages to look just as bad (if not worse) in most games. Nothing that the Bobcats do offensively comes easy, as so much of their offense is predicated on Stephen Jackson hitting difficult shots, Raymond Felton setting up a variety of offensively-challenged role players, and Gerald Wallace killing himself for every bucket and board. They defend like hell and will fluster other teams, but nothing that the Bobcats do is ever particularly attractive, even it can be incredibly addicting to watch.

This series is just ugly. That’s fine, honestly. I’m sure Orlando doesn’t mind facing a pretty tough defensive opponent in the first round, even if it makes things a bit more difficult than they could have been. That’s exactly what’s happened in Games 1 & 2: Orlando has struggled to develop an offensive rhythm, even with Dwight Howard seemingly providing a mismatch against Charlotte’s bigs. Good defense and questionable foul-calling have limited Dwight’s effectiveness in both games, and his 15 points and six turnovers are definitely manageable for the Cats. The rest of Orlando’s starters’ scoring — Jameer Nelson’s 13, Rashard Lewis’ 13, Vince Carter’s 19, Matt Barnes’ 11 — also seems fairly pedestrian, until you realize just how slow this game was. There were 80 possessions. That’s it. 80. That’s a full 10 possessions slower than the slowest team in the league (Portland), and even more impressive given the combined 33 turnovers. That’s 33 possessions ended early, one way or another, and yet the pace just hit 80. Not only is that a bit of a slog, but it’s actually kind of impressive, when you think about it.

Of course, for all of Charlotte’s hard work defensively, they’re giving up spurts of production that prove deadly. How do the Cats expect to keep up when the Magic drop 34 points in the third quarter? Charlotte couldn’t even manage that much in the first two quarters combined. The Bobcats were hanging by the slimmest of threads: a few threes from D.J. Augustin here, a tip-in by Nazr Mohammed there. There was no room for a third quarter flub after all the Cats had been through in the first half (namely, scoring only three points in the game’s first eight and a half minutes, and going scoreless for a full five minutes in the second quarter) yet that’s exactly what happened in the third. Dwight started the quarter by scoring the Magic’s first nine points, and Jameer and the wings took over from there.

Gerald Wallace somehow ended up with 15 points, despite having an incredibly silent first half (one point, just two FGAs). He just wasn’t the productive freak he was in Game 1, even if he was trying his damnedest to be. Vince Carter was actually quite good, despite how pedestrian his 19 points might seem. He was efficient (50% shooting, just one turnover), productive, and in this game, exactly what Orlando needed him to be.

I guess the Bobcats made a run in the fourth quarter, but they really didn’t. A 20-point Orlando lead to start the fourth was carved down to just eight with a little more than three minutes remaining, but two frustrating plays involving Stephen Jackson (the lone bright spot for the Cats offensively…and even he had seven turnovers) — one frustrating because of his turnover, another because of the referees — killed the Cats’ momentum and handed the game to the Magic. The play in question, with Jax was understandably a bit pissed about:

It probably wouldn’t have turned the game, but if anything that play represents just how ugly this game had become by the final buzzer. The officiating was a mess, the Orlando offense only looked good on occasion, and every time either team was on the verge of doing something spectacular, they were mired in the game’s unmistakable funk.

Seth Carstens