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Magic 117, Hawks 110: Orlando overcomes massive first quarter deficit to earn the crunchtime victory

Orlando earned a quality win thanks to Vucevic's massive second half and Hezonja's crunchtime scoring.

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Winning back-to-back games against the same opponent is usually a difficult task in the NBA, and for much of the game tonight it appeared to be impossible for the Magic to earn their second straight victory over the Atlanta Hawks. However, despite being down 20 points in the first quarter, the Magic fought back the entire rest of the way to tie the game in the fourth quarter, reversing their crunch-time fortunes from the previous battle between these two teams. They were finally able to seal the deal in overtime, winning 117-110.  Nikola Vucevic was the star of the night, scoring a game-high 28 points, most of which came in the second half, along with 13 rebounds.  Elfrid Payton also came up big for Orlando, scoring 20 points to go with 7 assists and 3 steals.  Al Horford led Atlanta with 27 points.

The Magic have been prone to slow starts in recent weeks, but the first quarter took that problem to a whole new level. The offense and defense were equally horrible, as the Hawks climbed all the way to a 28-8 lead in the first 9 minutes of the game. If defense was the key to the Magic's tight win on the first leg of the home-and-home series, it was nowhere to be seen early on as Orlando allowed the Hawks to penetrate at will and generate any kind of shot they wanted.  On the other end of the court, an 0-7 mark from long range depressed the Magic's scoring, and it wasn't until Jason Smith entered the game that they were able to score with any kind of consistency.  Smith scored on three straight midrange jumpers, showing a nifty pump fake on the second shot and a fading baseline stroke on the third.  The defense also seemed to find its groove at that time, slowing the drives the Hawks had taken advantage of up to that point.  The increased energy led to a 10-2 run, closing the lead to 12 at a score of 30-18.

In the second, after starting a frigid 0-10 from long range, Aaron Gordon finally hit from the corner, which pushed the lead back into single digits.  Jason Smith continued his hot shooting and provided much-needed rim protection, registering 2 blocks in his first 8 minutes of playing time, as the run from the first quarter extended to 20-8.  The Hawks then pushed the lead back to 13 after some sloppy play by Orlando.  The teams continued to trade blows, with neither able to put together a run to reassert control.  Jeff Teague hit a 3 to get the Hawks' lead to 15, but Fournier came right back with just the second long range make of the night for Orlando.

One notable development in the first half was the addition of Dwayne Dedmon to the rotation.  Dedmon was a DNP in the previous matchup between these two teams, but subbed in for Jason Smith in an apparent effort to keep some rim protection on the court at all times, especially with Vucevic in the game.  Unfortunately, Dedmon was forced to guard Millsap at times, a bad matchup when Millsap operates on the perimeter. The Magic looked like they were going to end the half on a high note after an Oladipo 3 got the lead to 9 again, but Millsap came right back with a 3-point play, plus a foul on Dedmon in one of those perimeter situtions.  That gave the Hawks a 13-point lead heading into halftime, 54-41.

Unlike the start of the first half, the Magic were effective offensively to start things off in the second.  That wasn't enough to prop up the defense, however, as the Magic's starting unit continued to be helpless against Teague's drives into the paint.  A timeout halfway through the quarter appeared to be enough to settle the defense as Orlando contained the next several Atlanta shots to contested perimeter attempts.  That was enough for Orlando to put together a run with some open jump shots, including a 3 from Eflrid Payton.  Payton was active on both ends of the court, scoring 8 points in the quarter while getting a steal.  The hottest player on the court, however, was Vucevic, who hit 8 shots in a row between the third and fourth quarters, including 12 points in the third on a variety of hook shots and jumpers.  Orlando pushed the lead all the way down to 7 multiple times, but once again Millsap was there to bail out Atlanta with two consecutive 3s near the end of the quarter.  Still, Orlando made up a little ground, and trailed 83-72.

Orlando increased their effort and intensity in the fourth, pushing the lead down to 3 with about half the quarter remaining.  Shortly after that, Oladipo went down after taking an inadvertent blow to the face from Horford, and was taken to the locker room.  He would later return to the bench and would come back in the game by the end of the quarter.  Smith continued to be the Magic's best player on defense, registering two huge blocks on a Korver 3-pointer and a Teague floater.  Fournier, subbed in for the injured Oladipo, came up huge running a pick-and-roll and finding Vucevic.  Finally, the Magic took a 2-point lead on a Hezonja 3-pointer.

Once again, Orlando found themselves fighting for a clutch time victory, having gone 5-7 in such games throughout the season, among the most close games in the league.  Horford and Millsap once again stepped up for the Hawks, scoring the next six Atlanta points against 1 made free throw from Payton to retake a 3-point lead.  Another 1-2 trip from Payton cut the lead to 2, and the teams exchanged missed shots until Orlando had possession with 22 seconds left in regulation.  That's when Hezonja hit perhaps his biggest shot of the season, a wide-open 3 on a kick out from Vucevic in the post.  On the following Hawks possession, Horford drove into Vucevic and Gordon and drew a foul, but only hit one free throw to leave the game tied.  Orlando had a chance to win the game, but scrambled to inbound the ball cleanly out of the timeout.  The messy possession eventually ended with Oladipo getting the ball stripped in the paint, and Atlanta had a chance with 1.2 left after their own timeout.  Horford attempted a stepback jumper over Gordon, but the shot came too late, and the game was sent to overtime tied at 101.

Orlando entered their 7th overtime game having won just 1 of the previous 6 games.  Things started out well for Orlando as they raced out with a 6-0 run.  With the Hawks struggling to come up with a solid scoring possession, Teague managed to draw a 3-point shooting foul on Gordon.  However, he was only able to make the first of the three free throws, and Vucavic came right back at them in the post to draw a foul of his own, making 1 of 2 and pushing the lead back to 6 again.  The Hawks once again looked like they were about to cut the lead in half, but Korver's would-be 3-point make had a foot on the line, and corrected to be worth only 2 points.  The next possession, the Magic drew two consecutive fouls against Horford, which pushed them into the bonus and sent Vucevic to the line, where he made both free throws and once again pushed Orlando's lead to 6.

The Hawks would not give up, and kept the game close thanks to 3-pointers from Millsap and Korver, the latter going down only after bouncing high above the rim.  With the game once again in doubt, Fournier shook off Bazemore on the perimeter and hit a huge 3-pointer.  A scrambling possession by the Hawks led to a rushed, contested jumper from Millsap out of the corner, and Oladipo's free throws sealed the deal for the Magic, winning 117-110.