Losers of nine straight, the bottom was falling out on the Orlando Magic.
Then, things turned, and quickly, against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday night.
The Magic, who looked like a shell of the team that started the season 6-2 over the last three weeks, came out with a sense of urgency and energy that they simply had not had. Elfrid Payton started it out with pushing the pace, and forcing the issue against Russell Westbrook, forcing turnovers and blowing past the leagues reigning MVP.
Payton’s strong start — he finished the night with 19 points, six assists, five rebounds and four steals — was just the beginning for the Magic bunch that, at times, looked like the team that took the league by storm in the opening two weeks.
“He was terrific tonight,” said Magic coach Frank Vogel on Payton’s play. “He set the tone for us, with his first move on Russell, then going down and stealing the ball from Russell.
“He set the tone for the whole night that we’re going to go after these guys. Point guards gotta be the head of the snake for your basketball team, and he’s was terrific to start the game, and played well throughout.”
Aaron Gordon, who finished the night with 40 points, 15 rebounds, four steals and four assists, ran with the energy and never looked back. Gordon, who became the first Magic player since Dwight Howard to have multiple 40-point games in a season, played within himself and most importantly, the offense all night.
“He played within himself for the most part,” said Vogel. “He played the right way most of the night, and that’s what helped us get the victory.”
Gordon’s big night wasn’t the only thing that really aided the Magic, who used a 26-3 run over the final portion of the third quarter, and the beginning of the fourth, to take complete control.
Playing against three of the leagues best, the Magic held the Thunder to 39.6 percent from the field. Their defense, which had given up over 117 points per game, and allowed their oppositions to shoot nearly 48 percent over their losing streak, came up big against the likes of Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony an Paul George.
Aside from Westbrook’s 20 point fourth quarter, many of which came with the Magic up double-digits, the Magic played the Thunder triumvirate tight, frustrating them throughout.
“We did some things better on the defensive end the last couple of games that have improved us,” said Vogel.
One area that pleased Vogel was the teams improvement in going for the 50/50 balls, something they’ve struggled mightily with.
“When challenged at halftime, we got more of them in the second half. We had our center get on the floor for loose balls, we won some and you gotta make those plays if you’re going to win basketball games. We haven’t done that enough, and I was proud of our guys that did it in the second half.”
The biggest thing now for the Magic is finding a way to put it together yet again.
After going on a losing streak like they did, one win could be a game changer for the Magic, especially with much of their season still ahead of them.
“It can do a lot,” said D.J. Augustin. “A win like this, especially against a good team like that can move us forward. We’ve got another good team coming in on Friday and that will probably be the biggest win of the year for us.”
From Gordon’s career-night, to Payton getting after it early, the Magic had everything working on Wednesday night.
Now, with a stretch of winnable games coming up after Friday night against the Golden State Warriors — Orlando plays the Knicks or Hawks in three of their next four following games — the Magic could be able to get things back on track and fast.