For much of the night, the Magic played like a disinterested bunch, committing sloppy mistakes and making careless decisions. Against the Sixers, it almost didn’t matter, but when it came to crunch time the Magic came up flat yet again, losing a frustrating 112-111 game at home. Although the Magic were shorthanded themselves, playing without Aaron Gordon as he recovers from a foot injury, the loss was even more disheartening due to the absence of Joel Embiid, who didn’t travel with the team. In his place, Mario Hezonja got the start, and C.J. Watson also entered the starting lineup for Elfrid Payton.
Evan Fournier led Orlando with 24, but his defense—along with much of the teams—was suspect throughout much of the game. Dario Saric also scored 24 to lead the 76ers. The Magic actually outshot their opposition by a sizable margin (49% to 42%), an unusual occurrence, but they still found a way to lose.
Orlando jumped on Philly right from the get-go, abusing their nonexistent defense with a parade of layups. They raced out to a 15-point lead on the back of Fournier’s drives (13 in the quarter) and Vucevic’s good paint positioning (scored Orlando’s first 6). Hezonja made some solid plays in his unlikely start, nothing that would show up in the box score, but things like deflections on the ball, “assisting” on a foul on Fournier, and forcing a turnover only to have the ball bounce of Vuc’s hands and out of bounds. Things started to turn Philadelphia’s way as the bench units started filtering in, when Orlando started settling for bad shots and let the Sixers get open on the perimeter. Still, they were able to maintain a 25-20 lead after one.
The second quarter brought back echoes of the Magic’s early season struggles: strong success for a small part of the game, and frustrating failure for the larger part. Any semblance of the defense from the first 8 minutes of the game vanished, instead replaced by an avalanche of errors. Several times Orlando left a shooter totally uncovered on the perimeter, confused about how or when to switch screens, who to pick up in transition, or overhelping unnecessarily on drives. The punctuation mark on the miserable quarter was a personal 7-0 run on a single trip down the court by Dario Saric, who hit a 3-pointer, got fouled after the Magic turned the ball over on the inbounds, missed the second free throw—which the Sixers rebounded—and hit another 3-pointer. That gave the Sixers the 55-48 lead at halftime.
Orlando managed to start the turnaround in the third not thanks to a defensive renaissance, but with an offensive explosion. They didn’t do much to slow the Sixers’ offense, which continued to shoot well, especially from distance (4-6 in the quarter), but 15-23 shooting by the Magic was enough to outpace any offense the Sixers could possibly muster. Ibaka and Vucevic were the biggest contibutors, adding 10 each, the former from outside and the latter on the inside. A looming issue: turnovers, of which the Magic committed 7 in the quarter, enabling the Sixers to keep pace and eventually hold onto a slim lead, 85-84.
At times in the fourth, the Magic looked prepared to pull away from the Sixers, going on several runs to eventually go up by 8. Payton in particular continued to make plays running at the rim, and Augustin hit a 3-pointer. Again, the Sixers would not go away, going on an 8-0 run of their own to tie the game again. That’s when a scuffle broke out between the two teams, with Noel appearing to take offense to an elbow courtesy of Ibaka. After review, the two were assessed technical fouls, and the game continued.
The Magic pounced right away, getting a 3-pointer from Fournier, a fastbreak layup from Watson, and a block from Ibaka on Noel leading to another bucket. That could have been their chance to put the game away for good, but mistakes came back to bite them again and again. The Sixers used several trips to the line late in the quarter, including back-to-back trips for Saric after yet another failed defensive rebound, to pull within 1 with a little over a minute left. After a terrible offensive possession, an easy Saric layup gave the Sixers a 110-109 lead with about 35s left. After taking their last two timeouts to setup the possession, the Magic got Vucevic the ball in good post position—something they failed to do throughout the rest of the quarter—and he hit an easy hook shot.
With tenuous 1-point lead, the Sixers put the ball in Saric’s hands, and Vucevic stepped up, nearly forcing a turnover while tracking him around the court. The Sixers retained possession, and again Vucevic came up big, rejecting Ilyasova’s 3-point attempt. The Sixers got one more crack at it, and this time they isolated T.J. McConnell against Watson, driving past him and getting the layup with 5 seconds left. Without timeouts, the Magic were forced to scramble up the court, but Fournier turned the ball over, ending the contest.