For a while, the Magic played Wednesday’s game hitting most of the goals they probably set for themselves, goals which they’ve generally not met this season: play some defense, make some jumpers. Unfortunately, that all came crashing down in the fourth, when the Hornets turned the game on its head, winning 109-102. Terrence Ross led Magic scorers with 19, and Nikola Vucevic had a near triple-double with 14, 12, and 8 assists. Kemba Walker had 22 for the Hornets, most of that coming in the second half, and Marco Belinelli lit up the Magic in the second quarter, finishing with 20 on
The starters, as usual, held up their end of the bargain to start the game, though tonight they did it with a few elements that have been missing: defense, and 3-point shooting. While the long range percentage was nothing to write home about (3-9 in the first, 6-18 at the half), it was an improvement for a team that’s shot just 28% since the All-Star break (and that went 0-6 in the first half of their previous game, versus the Sixers). More importantly, they contained the Hornets on the perimeter, forcing Walker (2-8) and Nicholas Batum (1-5) into poor shooting in the first half.
Instead, the Hornets managed to get back into the game on the back of Belinelli, who scored 16 points in the second quarter thanks to 3-4 shooting from deep, as well as a foul drawn against Jodie Meeks pulling up for another shot behind the arc. Were it not for his shooting heroics, the Magic might have run away with this one early.
The other notable detail from the second quarter was the Magic’s experiement with “Mario Hezonja: Power Forward.” On the whole, he did well enough defending and rebounding, and he even made 2-4 from deep, but his interior shot-making left much to be desired. He and the bench were able to recover from the Belinellocalypse to keep the game tied, and the starters came back at the end of the half to push the lead up to 6, 54-48.
The third was the highest-scoring yet, as both teams began to drain shot after shot on the perimeter. Terrence Ross nailed two more 3-pointers and would hit a couple other shots to push his total up to 19. Aaron Gordon, on an otherwise quiet night, was even able to hit a 3-pointer. Charlotte came back with yet another 3-point foul drawn by Belinelli, and Walker finally started to get going with 8 points in the quarter. The nearly even period ended with the Magic still holding on to a small lead, 82-77.
If defense was what got the Magic ahead, it was defense that sank them in the end. The Hornets outscored the Magic 32-20 in the fourth quarter, in large part thanks to Frank Kaminski, who scored 13 in the final frame by going 3-3 from distance. At the same time, the Magic’s passing, which had been so active throughout the night, was smothered when Charlotte’s defense rose to another level. Instead, the Magic found themselves standing in place, barely escaping the Hornets’ ball pressure until someone took a contest shot. Throw in a dagger 3-pointer from Walker with about 1:30 left, and the Magic had no chance to come back.