For a team in need of a strong defensive performance, the Magic were given something of a holiday gift: a match-up against a team playing without its two leading scorers.
Orlando caught a break with Kristaps Porzingis (25.8 points per game) and Tim Hardaway Jr. (17.8 points) both being sidelined with injuries. The Magic established an early lead, then allowed the shorthanded Knicks to hang around a little longer than expected, but still held on to win, 105-100.
The Magic opened the game by hitting 8 of their first 12 shots, capped by an Aaron Gordon pull-up three that opened a 17-13 lead midway through the first. Gordon later pushed the ball up-court and delivered a pretty bounce pass to Elfrid Payton, who completed a three-point play for a 34-17 lead. A tip-in by Nikola Vucevic increased the advantage to 36-19, which equaled the Magic's high this season for points in the first quarter. The Knicks closed the quarter on a 6-0 run to pull within 36-25.
The Magic benefited from the Knicks entering the penalty with 8:05 remaining in the second, but they didn't record their first field goal until more than five minutes into the second. That's when Jonathon Simmons hit a desperation jumper with the shot clock expiring to give the Magic a 42-32 lead.
The Knicks again chipped away at the lead, making it a one-possession game on a four-point play by Doug McDermott with 2.5 seconds left in the half. After Jarrett Jack delivered a cross-court pass to the corner for McDermott, Evan Fournier was overly-aggressive on the closeout and made contact, allowing the Knicks to head to the break trailing the Magic just 54-51.
The Magic shot 44.2 percent from the field in the first half, including 3-for-11 from three (27.3 percent). The shorthanded Knicks shot 46.8 percent.
The Knicks regained the lead in the third quarter as the two teams traded baskets. A three by D.J. Augustin and a lay-in by Fournier off an in-bounds play with seconds left on the shot clock gave the Magic a 78-74 lead. A buzzer beater by former Magic center Kyle O'Quinn made it a two-point game heading into the fourth.
The Magic went up 82-78 off a one-handed, put-back slam by Simmons.
Arron Afflalo's first field goal of the game was a big one. His long three off a broken play gave the Magic an 85-81 lead with 7:24 to go.
Vucevic scored eight straight points, including a three-point play on a dunk off a feed from Gordon, to open a 93-85 for the Magic with five minutes remaining.
The Knicks refused to go quietly, cutting the lead to three on multiple occasions. Free throws by Vucevic and Fournier helped seal the win as the Magic snapped a seven-game road losing streak.
Vucevic scored 12 of his 34 points in the fourth quarter. He shot 13-for-19 from the field and also grabbed 12 rebounds. All five Magic starters finished in double figures. Fournier had 20 points, Simmons had 16, Payton had 15 and Gordon, who shot just 3-for-11 from the field and 1 of 6 from three, added 10. The Magic shot 45.1 percent, hitting just six of 28 three-point attempts (21.4 percent).
Michael Beasley, starting in place of Porzingis, led the Knicks with 21 points. Courtney Lee added 19 and Enes Kanter had 18 points and 16 rebounds. The Knicks, without Porzingis and Hardaway, outscored the Magic, who of course were still without Terrence Ross and Jonathan Isaac, in bench points, 31-10.
The Magic, who normally struggle to get to the free throw line, connected on 25 of 29 attempts (86.2 percent) compared to just 9 of 10 for the Knicks.
The game was more difficult and required more energy than it probably should have been for the Magic, but the effort was there and a win is a win.
They play the second game of a back-to-back tomorrow in Charlotte against Dwight Howard and the Hornets.