It was an all-too-familiar scene for the Orlando Magic when they traveled to Portland to take on Damian Lillard and the Trail Blazers on Wednesday night. In their last meeting, the All-NBA point guard erupted for 41 points, 34 in the second half. In the rematch, both the outcome and the path to get there would be similar.
Lillard finished with 41 once again on Wednesday night, and a franchise-record 10 threes, but to their credit, the Magic made this one a game until the final buzzer. Orlando played one of their better halves of the season to open the game, leading 63-55 at the break, but a third-quarter explosion by Lillard saw the Magic playing catchup.
Despite the Portland guard’s performance, however, the Magic found themselves down three with a chance to tie in the games waning seconds. Some strategic fouling and a bit of luck led to Blazers’ wing Evan Turner missing four straight free throws in the game’s last 15 seconds. Orlando capitalized to an extent, but the game ultimately ended in a mess that included a clock malfunction by the refs and a botched final play for the Magic.
It was an all-around hard-fought effort by the Magic that saw all five starters and two bench players score double digits. The frontcourt duo of Nikola Vucevic and Jonathan Isaac were the strength of the team for this one, with Vucevic netting 20 points and eight rebounds – both team highs. Isaac was right on his heels, turning in one of his best games in pinstripes with a cool 16 and 7.
Despite the well-rounded effort, there were several moments that the Magic probably wish they could have back. People will remember the wild ending, but the turning point in the game came when Magic guard Evan Fournier committed costly turnovers on back-to-back possessions in the game’s final two minutes. With the Magic down just one and a minute left to play, Fournier looked off an open Terrence Ross to instead make a risky pass that was picked off by Lillard, who then scored easily going the other way. The Blazers never looked back after that.
The Magic now sit at 10-12 on the season and are still very much alive in the convoluted Eastern Conference. That’s good enough for the eight seed, and a full game and a half up on the Wizards, who sit at ninth. Next on the schedule, Orlando will look to get back on track on Friday night against the 4-16 Suns, owners on the NBA’s worst record.