Evan Fournier had a miserable shooting night Monday night, but he made his last one count.
Fournier’s 22-foot jumper at the buzzer lifted the Magic to a 102-100 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers. After the game, Fournier said the shot was his first game-winning make at the buzzer in his NBA career.
“It’s my mentality, especially when I’m missing shots like that,” Fournier said to reporters in the locker room. “I wanted to redeem myself. Always have the next shot mentality. I knew it was going to be some kind of jab or fake and then shoot it. I knew I had time (to shoot it).”
The Magic blew a big lead due to a disastrous third quarter, but were able to fight back into the game late. The Magic were surgical with their late-game in-bounds execution, something that certainly isn’t talked about around these parts if you’ve followed the Magic...well, ever.
Aaron Gordon led the Magic with 23 points and 9 rebounds (9-15 FG, 3-4 3PT), his second really solid game in a row for Orlando.
Before the game, Coach Clifford praised the way in which his team shared the basketball Sunday night in San Antonio.
The Magic began the game Monday in a giving mood as well, dishing out eight first quarter assists. Gordon was able to take advantage of a match-up in his favor against Sam Dekker early, scoring 10 first quarter points.
16 of Cleveland’s 21 points in the opening quarter came in the paint, something that surely concerned Clifford.
As has been the case for a few games now, Terrence Ross entered the game off the bench blistering hot. Two back-to-back Ross three-point makes to end the first quarter stretched Orlando’s lead to 30-21.
The Cavs went on an 8-3 run to begin the second quarter. After a quick timeout taken by Clifford, the Magic were able to stabilize things.
Cleveland entered play Monday night last in the league in blocked shots. The Magic were able to exploit a lack of rim protection on Cleveland’s part for a large chunk of the first half (26 first half points in the paint) as they stretched their lead to double-digits heading into the break.
And then the third quarter happened. The Magic were blitzed from the start of the second half, surrendering a 15-4 opening run to Cleveland as their lead completely evaporated.
The Magic were ice cold in the third quarter, connecting on a putrid 4 of 20 shot attempts (20%). All of a sudden, the ball wasn’t moving side to side as swiftly. The Magic weren’t trusting each other; they forced a lot of bad shots, and weren’t getting to the free throw line (per usual) to compensate for shots not falling.
Orlando trailed by nine heading into the fourth quarter, but they had one more run left in them. Although, it didn't appear so at first glance - the Magic turned the ball over on their first three fourth quarter possessions.
Things got going due to a beautifully drawn-up baseline out-of-bounds play that led to a Ross elbow jumper. The Magic went on a 15-6 run, and the game was tied 88-88 with just under four minutes remaining in the game.
Another perfectly executed Magic side out-of-bounds play coming out of a timeout led to a Fournier three-point make to give the Magic the lead (91-88).
Both teams traded buckets down the stretch, but a J.R. Smith dagger from the top of the key with 41.9 put the Cavaliers ahead for good.
Or so many inside the Amway Center thought.
Down three, D.J. Augustin went to the the free throw line after scooping up a late Cleveland turnover. Augustin knocked down both attempts, cutting Cleveland’s lead to just one point.
Coming out of a Cleveland timeout, Smith had the ball in front of Orlando’s bench. In front of Smith was Mohamed Bamba and his NBA-record wingspan. Bamba’s length disrupted Smith’s vision, who couldn’t get a clean pass into Kyle Korver. Fournier stole the ball from Korver, got fouled at the other end, but was only able to convert one of his two free throws.
After a clutch defensive stop, finished off by a Vucevic block, the Magic had the ball with 1.3 seconds remaining in regulation (with a chance to win the game).
EVAN FOURNIER FOR THE WIN pic.twitter.com/TXk7PcSgTy— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) November 6, 2018
Welp, I guess that’s what I get for sitting behind my laptop ♂️ pic.twitter.com/AZizw7fOBr— Aaron Goldstone (@AaronGoldstone) November 6, 2018
The Magic (both coaches and players) have shown a lot of confidence in Fournier despite his early season shooting struggles. Coach Clifford drew up the play for his starting shooting guard, who came around a Vucevic down-screen, caught the ball, took one dribble to free himself from Korver, and then hit the game-winner as time expired.
“No, I mean there was an option for T-Ross and then Evan second,” Clifford said after the game when asked whether the final played was called for Fournier. “They took Terrence away and I think also - I haven’t seen it, but I think Vucevic set a good screen. But Aaron did a good job inbounding the ball (there’s) difficult, so he had good poise and he made a good pass.”
The confidence in Fournier (whether he was option #1 or #2) paid off for Clifford and the Magic Monday night. Orlando got a much needed win at home, and finished off their second back-to-back of the season with another victory.
“No question, I know that (you know) they want to win badly and this is a really good win,” Clifford said when asked about playing on the second night of a back-to-back. “It was an important win for us and to win like that late in the game, you know - a good defensive possession where we get a turnover. Well actually, yeah we got the turnover (we got two of them), you know so guys did a good job and it’s a good way to win.”
“It’s huge,” Fournier added (on winning back-to-back games). “We have to build momentum and believe in ourselves and believe we can beat anyone. We can and we have proved it. The more you do it, the easier it becomes. We have two tough games coming up and it’s going to be a good test for us.”
Orlando has now won two games in a row. You know what two in a row is called? A winning streak...
The Magic will look to extend their streak Wednesday night at home against the Detroit Pistons. Game-time is set for 7 P.M.