Magic strikes first against Pacers
INDIANAPOLIS – The Indiana Pacers no longer have home-court advantage in their first-round series against Orlando.
And they can blame mental mistakes for it.
The short-handed Orlando Magic beat the Pacers 81-77 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Saturday to take a 1-0 lead in their best-of-seven series. The teams return to Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Monday for Game 2.
“Even in games we haven’t played well, I think our guys never quit fighting,” Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. “Our goal is to hang in there and not quit fighting.”
Jason Richardson and Jameer Nelson led Orlando with 17 points each. David West scored 19 points for the Pacers.
The Pacers had a chance to go up four points with less than 90 seconds remaining, but Danny Granger missed two free throws. The Magic took the lead for good when Richardson made a 3-pointer on the following possession.
The Pacers had a chance to take the lead again, but Granger again missed a layup. Nelson hit two free throws to give Orlando an 80-77 lead.
“We’re a great 3-point shooting team and free-throw shooting team,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “We just didn’t make them tonight. We didn’t execute in crunch time.”
Indiana opened its biggest lead since the first quarter when backup point guard Darren Collison banked in a short jumper from the left side with four minutes left in the game to give the Pacers a 77-70 lead.
It turns out those were their final points of the game. Indiana missed their final nine shots of the game and turned the ball over twice down the stretch, looking nothing like a team ready to make it a quick series against Orlando.
“We fell short of our expectations,” West said. “We gave up too many easy buckets and we can’t say that we let this one slip away because we never had it in my opinion. This next game is a must-win.”
The Pacers opened the game like they were ready to send an early message to the Magic that they want to make it a short series.
The Pacers jumped out to a quick 17-7 lead behind seven points from Granger.
The Magic, who are without All-Star center Dwight Howard (back) for the rest of the season, didn’t back down, though.
They kept chipping away at Indiana’s lead before completing the 10-point comeback early in the second quarter when forward Quentin Richardson heaved in a 3-pointer as the shot clock was about to expire to give them a 28-27 lead.
“With the group of guys we have now, we’ve been playing harder,” Nelson said. “We’re trying to cut down on mistakes. We’re playing without our best player in Dwight Howard, who usually cleans up our mistakes.”
The Magic stayed in the game with the 3-point shot in the first half. They were 6 of 14 on 3s after the first 24 minutes.
West led the Pacers with 13 points in the first half. Nelson had 11 points for the Magic.
NOTES: Vogel is shrinking his rotation by one player during the playoffs. He’s going with a three-man rotation of Granger, Leandro Barbosa and Paul George on the wing instead of a four-man rotation. Dahntay Jones will be out of the rotation unless there’s an injury or a blowout. … Van Gundy said starters Glen Davis and Hedo Turkoglu wanted to be in the lineup even though they both are dealing with injuries. Davis has been bothered with a right ankle injury. Turkoglu recently returned from a broken cheekbone. … Pacers center Roy Hibbert set a franchise record by blocking nine shots in 34 minutes. He added eight points and 13 rebounds.