The Orlando Magic nearly pulled off one of their most impressive wins of the season Wednesday by rallying from a 19-point, third-quarter deficit against the Atlanta Hawks, but a series of late mistakes after they had taken a six-point lead cost them in their 112-109 defeat. Hawks big man Pero Antić picked up the first double-double of his NBA career, but more importantly for his team nailed four free throws in the waning seconds to ice the Hawks' victory.
Despite early foul trouble, Victor Oladipo put together another fine performance for the Magic, finishing with 24 points, seven boards, and seven assists. Doron Lamb scored 13 off the Magic's bench, just three points shy of tying his career-best scoring output.
Here's a look at the stories that developed Wednesday.
Orlando can't close
According to coach Jacque Vaughn, Orlando had two options on its final play of the game, which ended with Jameer Nelson launching a contested three-pointer that missed the mark. "Hopefully we were looking to get a little bit more than the shot that we got at the end," he said, suggesting that Nelson's game-tying attempt was less than ideal.
But the Magic's problems began before the final play. It led by as much as six in the game and, after an improbable, shot-clock-beating fadeaway from Glen Davis with 2:50 to go, owned a five-point edge. Still, Atlanta executed down the stretch and earned the victory. Orlando's own mistakes played a role in that comeback.
A turnover from Tobias Harris led to a Paul Millsap three-point play which put Atlanta in the lead. Orlando missed each of its final three field-goal attempts, with each miss leading to two Atlanta free throws as the Hawks exploited the Magic's being in the penalty.
"Even if you don't score, what you don't want are turnovers in that situation," Vaughn said. "But [they're] learning opportunities for us. I think you get put in that situation and you learn from it."
Harris agreed. "We had some good opportunities, but we couldn't convert," he said. Wednesday's result serves as the latest reminder that the young, rebuilding Magic must work to reach a point at which late-game execution becomes more crisp.
Lamb goes H•A•M
But the Magic would not have been in position to win the game at all were it not for Lamb, who scored 10 of his 13 points after halftime to get Orlando back to within striking distance of Atlanta. He scored three consecutive baskets--none of them easy--in a one-minute, eight-second span of the fourth, the last of which brought the Magic to within a point. The Amway Center crowd, many of whose members had likely never heard of the reserve guard, responded loudly and proudly to his barrage of key baskets.
"I didn't do nothing differently," Lamb said of the greatest performance of his sophomore NBA season. "I've always been prepared to play. When I get in the game, I just make shots and get my teammates involved. That's my main goal."
Lamb gave the Magic a spark, but he also fouled out by picking up three personals in a nine-second span later in the fourth quarter. Vaughn subbed Nelson in for Lamb following Lamb's disqualification, which ended his stellar night on a down note. "It killed me," Lamb said when asked about how he felt following his sixth foul. The Kentucky product badly wanted to continue playing.
"I was very, very happy for him," Arron Afflalo said. "He hasn't really had a great opportunity this year. We needed him tonight. That game wouldn't have came down to the wire if it wasn't for him."
Hawks limit Afflalo
Lamb's performance gave Orlando's wing scoring a sorely needed lift, as the Hawks blanketed Afflalo. The Magic's leading scorer on the season managed just six points on 3-of-9 shooting Wednesday, and he didn't earn a single trip to the foul line. That output is his lowest since March 22nd, 2013, when he scored six in a loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The UCLA product said "I don't know" what Atlanta was doing against him defensively to render him ineffective, but did offer one explanation.
"Sometimes the ball is in my teammates' hands [....] It's just one of those nights."
Wednesday's result marks the 11th time in Afflalo's Magic tenure that he has scored in single-digits. Orlando is now 1-10 in such games.