The story Wednesday night was supposed to be all about newly acquired All-Star Jimmy Butler, who debuted with the Philadelphia 76ers in the City Beautiful.
Butler may have been the cause of all the buzz around the arena prior to the game, but the hometown team provided plenty of story-lines when it was all said and done.
Nikola Vucevic scored 30 points to help lead the Magic (7-8) past the Sixers 111-106. Terrence Ross chipped-in 15 points off Orlando’s bench, including a big shot late in the game that sealed the win.
A mammoth fourth quarter run helped push the Magic ahead of the Sixers and ruin Butler’s first game with his new team. Butler was officially acquired by the 76ers (from Minnesota) earlier this week in exchange for Dario Saric, Robert Covington, and Jerryd Bayless.
“We kept fighting for the whole game,” Vucevic said in the locker room after the game. “They’re a very good team. They just made a big trade, we knew they were going to be fired up. But we stayed poised for 48 minutes and it was a great team win, great effort.”
One of the keys late in tonight’s game was Coach Clifford’s team limiting their fouls, something that plagued them against the Wizards Monday night. Orlando attempted 22 free throws Wednesday, compared to Philadelphia’s 15 attempts.
Joel Embiid was on fire to begin the game, hitting four of his first five shots (3-3 3PTA’s) within the first five minutes of the contest. Butler scored eight quick points as well, combining with Embiid to produce Philadelphia’s first 19 points.
Oddly enough, Embiid was taken out of the game after the first break in action, which allowed the Magic to get going. The Magic got all sorts of clean paint touches early in the game, which led in large part to fast starts for Aaron Gordon and Vucevic.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before; as has been the case for the Magic numerous times already this season, their second unit came into the game and really struggled at the beginning of the second quarter. Philadelphia opened up a double-digit lead midway through the period due to the shooting ineptitude of Orlando’s second unit (Jerian Grant, Ross, Jonathon Simmons, and Isaac missed seven of their first ten attempts).
Coach Clifford brought Vucevic and Gordon back into the game with the bench unit. Staggering his lineups seemed to really help as the Magic immediately erased their early deficit. Vucevic was feasting in the first half, playing aggressively on the offensive end (especially when Embiid was out of the game).
“Tonight, he got going in the post,” Coach Clifford said of Vucevic during his post-game conference. “He’s inside and out (now), Vucevic is a handful. He’s going to score in the post, and he’s a terrific decision-maker (passer).”
A D.J. Augustin baseline drive and left-handed behind-the-back pass to Vucevic for a dunk gave the Magic a slim 53-52 halftime lead.
The Sixers made seven of their first ten shots from the field to begin the second half. The Amway Center crowd went a bit lifeless (other than the Sixers fans of course) as Butler and JJ Redick (10 of his 22 points came in the period) went to work in the third quarter.
Second chance opportunities were a big reason why Philadelphia was able to push their lead back to double-digits. Five third-quarter offensive rebounds (three from Mike Muscala) led to nine points for the Sixers, who took an eleven point lead into the fourth quarter (87-76).
“At the end of the third (quarter), we had some rebounding issues,” Coach Clifford said when asked about his team’s approach heading into the game’s final quarter. “Muscala was in there, and the Fultz got the last one. But you could tell, guys were good and positive with each other - upbeat. We came back in the fourth and played twelve hard hard, smart minutes.”
It happened slowly, and then it happened quickly (if that makes sense). Orlando chipped away at Philadelphia’s lead, and then in an instant, everything changed.
A Ross three-point make from the wing, followed by an incredible Jonathan Isaac block, and then another Ross jumper helped Orlando regain the lead from the Sixers in the blink of an eye.
Isaac’s block wasn’t your average swat either. He stuffed Embiid at the rim, thwarting the All-Star center at his highest point while simultaneously electrifying the home fans.
.@jisaac_01 with the huge block on Joel Embiid and @TFlight31 sinks a three to give the @OrlandoMagic the lead in the 4th quarter!#PureMagic #NBA— FOX Sports Florida (@FOXSportsFL) November 15, 2018
Watch the rest of tonight’s action on FOX Sports Florida and on the FOX Sports App! pic.twitter.com/6Y6snPRMFl
“Just the challenge alone; it takes a lot of courage to take somebody on when they come down the lane like that,” Gordon said in the locker room when asked about Isaac’s block. “That was a big-time play for us - play of the game.”
All in all, Orlando’s 21-0 run setup a wild fourth quarter finish between two teams that traded baskets back and forth down the stretch (six fourth quarter lead changes).
After a Gordon dunk gave the Magic a 106-104 lead, Ben Simmons marched to the line with 52 seconds left and calmly knocked down two free throws.
Momentum continued to swing wildly as both Evan Fournier and Redick committed turnovers with less than a minute remaining in the game.
And then Ross hit the big one. With 8.7 seconds remaining, Orlando’s sixth man came around a Vucevic screen moving to his left and made a huge three-point attempt.
.@TFlight31 with ice in his veins! A huge three pointer gives the @OrlandoMagic the 109-106 lead with 08.7 seconds remaining!#PureMagic #NBA— FOX Sports Florida (@FOXSportsFL) November 15, 2018
Watch the rest of tonight’s action on FOX Sports Florida and on the FOX Sports App! pic.twitter.com/bZr8PVOClW
A Redick three-point make with just seconds remaining appeared to tie the game once again, but the referees ruled that Redick stepped out of bounds prior to his shot attempt.
Embiid recorded a triple-double (19 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists) in the game, but was woeful shooting the basketball in the second half (6-20 FG).
With the win, Orlando improved to 7-8 through their first fifteen games of the ‘18-’19 season. The Magic will be back in action Saturday night, again likely garnering attention from around the league. The Magic welcome LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers to town. Game-time is set for 7 P.M.