Every two weeks the Magic establish a new normal, and right now the modus operandi for the Magic is “Score, score, score...and let the other team do the same.” Still, they came out on top tonight, despite some questionable reffing decisions, especially in the third quarter, taking the 118-111 win at home. Nikola Vucevic led the way with 21 points in his return from a back injury, and Evan Fournier added 21 himself, most of that coming in the crucial fourth quarter. Brook Lopez led the Brooklyn Nets with 22 points, facilitating much of their offense from the post where he dominated Orlando’s big men all night.
The first quarter was a rough one in terms of execution for both teams early on, with turnovers for the Nets and poor shot selection for the Magic slowing down both offenses. While Orlando only shot 38.5% in the quarter, they made up for it by going 4-8 from long range, including two from Fournier. Gordon was the game’s leading scorer in the first, getting 7 points on 3-6 shooting (though his isolation against his college friend Rondae Hollis-Jefferson didn’t end particularly well). While the Magic were able to get out to a 19-14 lead, Brooklyn countered with a 9-0 run to take control of the game. The Magic were unable to contain drives from Hollis-Jeferson and Jeremy Lin, either getting lost on screens or biting on pump fakes by the basket. They were able to salvage the quarter with some last-second offense, but they still trailed 28-25.
The second quarter continued that same trend, with Orlando struggling to find good looks and the Nets continuing to abuse the Magic on drives into the paint and from range. The Magic got a few chances at layups, but they were difficult looks in traffic against big men that had already established strong position to contest. Another run gave the Nets an 8-point lead before Orlando began their slow crawl back into the lead. Vucevic was a big part of that effort, leading all scorers at the half with 13 points on 6-9 shooting. With about 4 minutes to go, the Magic’s defense finally kicked into gear, fueled by consecutive blocks from Biz and Ibaka. They allowed just 2 points the rest of the way, and that opened up the opportunity to take the halftime lead, 53-52.
The second half started disastrously for the Magic, who gave up a 6-0 run in just the first minute off a layup and 3-pointer, plus technical foul in between when Frank Vogel argued a non-call. Much like most of the first half, Orlando suffered from more bad choices on offense and not enough paint protection on defense, while also losing guys like Bojan Bogdanovic on the perimeter due to miscommunications. As the mistakes piled up, it seemed like Brooklyn would be able to run away with the game, and a better team might have, they never capitalized on the turnovers or bad fouls. The Nets took their biggest lead at 9 points about halfway through the quarter, and like the second the Magic slowly worked their way back into it. Ibaka was the big scorer for Orlando in the quarter, getting 9 points to bring his total to 17.
The reffing was questionable throughout the night, with the refs alternating between allowing a lot of contact and then calling ticky-tack fouls. Both teams seemed frustrated with the reffing, but the Magic bore the brunt of the refs’ whistle, getting called for a whopping four technical fouls: the first on Vogel, and then three within the span of a few minutes on Fournier, Payton, and Vucevic. The Nets’ coach Kenny Atkinson was also called for a tech early in the quarter. Both Ibaka and Biyombo found themselves in foul trouble, so Vucevic saw a lot of play the rest of the game. This may have worked to Orlando’s advantage, since he seemed to do the best job defending Lopez 1-on-1. In total, the Nets took an incredible 18 free throws in the quarter, but the Magic found a way to fight back and take the lead, 83-82.
The fourth quarter was a complete turnaround from the first, with the whistle almost exclusively going the Magic’s way. They committed just a single foul in the quarter and gave the Nets no free throw attempts, crucial in finishing out the game strong. The Magic increased their point total for each quarter, maxing out at 35 points in the fourth. They continued to struggle defending Lopez, whom the Nets went to nearly every possession throughout the fourth quarter, especially when Biyombo defended him. The Magic fared better when Vucevic came back into the game, and that was when they built their separation. Up five points with 30 seconds to go, they were able to close out the game at the free throw line.