The Magic have been anything but consistent this season, so it’s only fitting that two unlikely heroes would emerge from a game that seemed destined to be the most embarrassing loss of the season.
The Atlanta Hawks are not a good basketball team. They haven’t been one since they decided that Dwight Howard should be their franchise centerpiece last season – and this year’s 5-19 squad has made it clear that a full rebuild is on.
Still, a catastrophic sequence of events at the end of Wednesday’s night’s game looked to doom the Magic into being win No. 6 for the fourteenth-place Hawks.
Down one point with 27 seconds left on the clock, Orlando’s offensive set stalled out as the defense crowded the paint. Out of the corner of his eye, Evan Fournier saw Aaron Gordon open in the corner and heaved a desperation pass, which was picked off by the Hawks’ Kent Bazemore.
Bazemore sunk both free throws, the Magic were down three, and the Amway Center crowd heaved a collective sigh of defeat.
The next attempt at a final shot seemed to bog down again, and just when all hope seemed lost, Nikola Vucevic tipped a deflected pass to an open D.J. Augustin who had just been subbed in for starter Elfrid Payton. Swish. Tie game.
“I didn’t think it would come to me cause the play wasn’t drawn up for me,” said Augustin, who had been sitting for six minutes prior to taking the shot that sent the game to overtime, “but coach told me to go in the game like right at the last minute, and like I said they played good defense on the play, and it came to me and I just knocked it down.”
The Magic were far from perfect on Wednesday night, but sometimes okay is good enough.
Orlando would score first in overtime and control the period, eventually winning 110-106. Their only hiccup was when Fournier landed hard after finishing a play through contact. Displaying incredible toughness, the Frenchman hobbled to the line, attempted the free throw, and then instantly fouled to check himself out of the game before being helped off the court.
The latest information on Fournier’s injury can be found below:
Evan Fournier suffered a sprained right ankle tonight during overtime vs. Atlanta. X-rays were negative and he will undergo further evaluation tomorrow.— Orlando Magic PR (@Magic_PR) December 7, 2017
Though few expected D.J. Augustin to save the game with his clutch shooting, it would’ve been equally unlikely to see Nikola Vucevic get the team over the hump with his defense and passing.
The Magic trailed by as many as nine points in the fourth quarter but the Hawks collapsed on offense down the stretch. As a team, Atlanta shot 26 percent in the fourth, and the previously red-hot Dennis Schroder was held to 1-of-7 from the floor.
Part of the fourth quarter comeback was Vucevic, who recovered well when the quick guard blew by him on switches. Not often known for his speed or defensive prowess, Vucevic affected shot after shot at the rim and feasted on the Hawks banged-up frontcourt for 22 points, 16 boards, four assists, and four blocks.
“I think the last couple possessions we didn’t get the rebound,” said Schroder, “Vucevic bullied us and got the rebound.”
Fournier led all scorers with 27 points, despite not playing much of overtime. He chipped in four rebounds, two steals, and an assist to round out a complete line.
As has been the trend, Aaron Gordon put up a monster line. The young forward scored 24 points on 9-of-15 shooting, snared 15 rebounds, and registered two assists and a block.
The Magic will hope to keep their momentum rolling on Friday when they take on a Nuggets that is playing without stars Nikola Jokic and Paul Millsap.