Payton's historic night
Whenever you become the first person to do something in the 26-year history of a franchise, especially as a rookie, you must be doing something right. In their team history, the Orlando Magic had never had a player post back-to-back triple-doubles. Not Penny Hardaway, not Shaquille O'Neal, not Tracy McGrady and not Dwight Howard. Not anyone.
With his 20-point, 10-assist, 10-rebound performance against the Portland Trail Blazers, rookie Elfrid Payton became the first Magic player to ever achieve the feat. He also became the first rookie in 18 years to post back-to-back triple-doubles, becoming the first to do so since Antoine Walker did so in 1997.
Yet after the game, Payton wasn't celebrating. For him, it was business as usual.
"I was just happy we were able to get the win and close out a game finally," said Payton. When asked if a triple-double was important to him, Payton responded by saying, "Yeah, it means I'm playing an all-around game. Obviously need help to get there, so know my teammates are playing well too, and that's very important to me also. Glad we got the win tonight."
With the place Payton's game was just a month ago, this feat is even more impressive. After four straight rough games against the Miami Heat, Atlanta Hawks, Charlotte Hornets and Phoenix Suns, it seemed as though Payton was beginning to hit the dreaded "Rookie Wall."
Since that four-game stretch, Payton has scored in double figures nine games in a row, had five or more assists in all nine games, and grabbed nine or more rebounds four times. Needless to say, the tough stretch was one that he was able to work through, and he's come out of it playing at an extremely high level. When asked how he was able to overcome the tough stretch, Payton said he just continued to work.
Payton's accomplishments didn't go unnoticed either. Blazers head coach Terry Stots raved about the rookie, saying, "He was terrific." Stotts went on to say Payton was a great penetrator and was able to control the game. "The pick-and-rolls in the first [quarter] gave us trouble. He got one of the key rebounds late. I was very impressed with his all-around game."
All-Star point guard Damian Lillard also gave the Magic's floor general credit, saying, "he played a great game."
Magic head coach James Borrego praised Payton for being able to help the team get off to a good start, citing his energy and intensity as keys for the team early on. "Elfrid's energy, his focus, his will really started the game for us and carried through the entire 48 minutes. Really proud of him, really proud of his effort, his growth, the way he's leading this group and his confidence right now."
Even though his celebration might've been very subdued, the achievement is still one that's impressive, especially for a rookie. Should Payton continue his torrid pace--he came one rebound shy of his first triple-double last Sunday against the Cleveland Cavaliers, which would've given him three in four games--on Sunday against the Denver Nuggets, he'd become just the fifth player in the last 20 years to record triple-doubles in three consecutive games. If he does so, he'd join the likes of Russell Westbrook, LeBron James, Jason Kidd and Grant Hill--some pretty decent company, if you ask me.
Bench gives a big lift
Down five players due to injury, the Magic needed someone to step up. What they got, was a great collective effort from their bench, led by Ben Gordon's 11 points, three rebounds, and three assists.
It wasn't just Gordon, however, as Andrew Nicholson gave the team a scoring lift in the second quarter, scoring seven of his nine, and rookie Aaron Gordon giving them good, high-energy minutes off the bench in the fourth quarter. Overall, it was a collective effort for a Magic bench that had been struggling of late. Their 33 points, 18 rebounds, and six assists were all big parts of the Magic's win against a good Blazers team. However, it wasn't just their stats, it was the little things that they did as well.
Aaron Gordon, who following the game said he felt "almost 100 percent today," crashed the boards and fought for 50-50 balls late in the game. He also got a key put back to help keep the team's momentum going when they found themselves fighting back from a seven-point Trail Blazer lead.
The elder Gordon helped keep the team afloat in the beginning of the fourth quarter, something that's been an issue for the Magic with their reserves in of late. Add in the toughness and grit that Kyle O'Quinn brought when the team needed it the most in the third quarter, and you have an all-around big effort from the bench.
Their production didn't go unnoticed either, as coach Borrego raved about them following the game. "Great resolve, and one of the biggest keys to the game was our bench production," he said. "There was a moment there in the third quarter where we needed some energy, a new group, a new focus and we came in with out bench and they really delivered for us.
"They changed that game, the momentum, the pressure on [LaMarcus] Aldridge, the rebounding effort, the pace of the game really changed with out bench. So, you've got to credit our group off the bench tonight."
Borrego went on to talk about how his bench's performance impacted his starters, especially in the fourth quarter. "We've been knocking on that door and today we got through, and I'm just really happy, really proud of our group."
Since Evan Fournier went down with a hip injury, it's been tough for the Magic bench to give the team a whole lot, but with their performance on Friday night, it gives them some momentum heading into Sunday's matchup with the Nuggets. With a long homestretch upcoming, this is the perfect time for the Magic to begin to build some momentum heading into the offseason, and should the bench continue to play the way they did tonight, they should have no problem whatsoever.