The Magic's win in Denver can only be described as "improbable." Despite committing 20 turnovers, going to the line only 10 times, and hitting but a single 3-pointer, the Magic gutted out the 85-74 victory over the Nuggets on Tuesday night. Elfrid Payton and Nikola Vucevic paced the Magic with 18 points apiece, with another 17 from Tobias Harris. Will Barton led all scorers with 23 points.
The first quarter was a messy affair with several mistakes by both teams, who combined for 11 turnovers. The Magic shot well in the quarter, nailing 11-22, but the Nuggets kept pace with three 3-pointers compared to zero for the Magic. Harris paced Orlando early with 9 points. Fournier was in foul trouble early, so Oladipo was in quickly and gave the Magic a spark down the stretch of the first.
The second quarter also started rough for the Magic, with several fouls in the first few minutes, including Fournier's 3rd, which sent him back to the bench until the second half. Though the Magic have been relatively good at securing the ball this season, the turnovers continued to pile up, with Orlando totaling 12 in the first 19 minutes of the game. Unlike the first quarter, they couldn't compensate by shooting well on the rest of their possessions: the Magic only had 6 points halfway through the frame, and only 14 points by the end of it. They shot 0-8 on long range attempts in the first half.
If there was one bright spot throughout the game, it was the Magic's stout defense, especially their rim protection, which forced several misses by the Nuggets on multiple layups and floaters. Despite allowing a ton of dribble penetration into the paint, they were able to recover and help each other to prevent easy shots. If not for Will Barton's 13 points, the Nuggets may have suffered similarly on offense in the first half. He made things difficult on the defensive end as well, nabbing 2 steals, one of which led to an and-1 over Elfrid Payton on a fast break. Harris was the only bright spot for the Magic, netting 15 points in the half.
The third quarter started much stronger for the Magic. Although they picked up 6 more turnovers, they were aggressive attacking the basket in both the halfcourt and in transition. Three quick layups by Payton and a three close-range makes from Vucevic quickly flipped a 9-point deficit into a 1 point lead, and they both continued to shine as the Magic and Nuggets traded blows. Together they scored 18 of the Magic's 22 points in the quarter. The offense dried up after they came out, however, and the Magic had to lean on their defense, which allowed only 16 points in the quarter. The Nuggets would lead 63-62 heading into the fourth.
Orlando's outside shooting woes only continued down the stretch of the game, but they were able to keep punishing the Nuggets inside to establish a small lead. Most importantly, the fourth was the strongest defensive quarter for the Magic, only allowing 11 points and smothering the Nuggets' effort to stay in the game. The Magic's 676-game streak of hitting at least one three was in jeopardy, but with about 2 minutes to go, Fournier finally hit one, his only basket he would make the entire game. That was the moment the Magic finally started to take control of the game, and Payton would somehow finish a very difficult 3-point play to extend the lead to 8. Another Payton and-1 on a rare foul-and-goaltend by Faried would seal the victory for the Magic.