It just comes too easily for him.
With just 2.5 seconds remaining, Evan Fournier caught the ball near the top of the key, drove to the center of the floor and hit a fifteen-foot runner for the game’s deciding points.
“That’s not an easy shot now,” head coach Steve Clifford said. “Looked like a 15/16 foot floater. As good as these guys are, there’s not a lot of guys that can make those.”
”He wants the ball at the end, no questions about it. He’s got courage.”
No one was happier than Jerian Grant. Grant had earned minutes due to the reaggravated ankle injury to Jonathon Simmons, and responded by fouling Reggie Bullock on a three-point attempt in the final seconds for what then looked to be an inevitable trip to overtime.
But with Fournier’s heorics, the Magic win their second game in a row, led by 70 combined points from D.J. Augustin, Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic.
But lost in the theatrics of Fournier’s shot was the exquisite defense played in quarters one, three and four.
The Magic held the starters to just 21 points in the first quarter, and 8 of 23 shooting. The Pistons’ bench would fare a bit better in the second, shooting 13 of 25 en route to a 38-point explosion, but the Magic still held the Pistons to just 42% on the night, and 25.8% from three, and held the Pistons’ starters to just 65 points on 22 of 60 shooting.
The Magic opened up the scoring with standout performances from Fournier, Gordon and Vucevic. The three combined for the Magic’s first 26 points, including a 16-0 run that gave the Magic a 20-7 lead early in the first.
The Magic had their way in the lane against big men Andre Drummond and Blake Griffin. The two would combine for just five points in the opening quarter, and the Magic’s off-ball movement and transition scoring resulted in some high-flying highlights!
Fourner and Augustin did a terrific job of probing the lane, and forcing rotations through the pick-and-roll. The Magic were also helped by five Pistons’ turnovers in the first quarter.
But it was the Magic’s pick-and-roll defense that slowed the Pistons in the first stanza, especially the play of Aaron Gordon.
Clifford spoke glowingly of him postgame:
“Aaron made Griffin work for everything he got. He’s doing a good job of not fouling unneccesarily. (Made Griffin) Having to work for things. He played a great all-around game.
The Magic dominated the starters, holding them to just 8 of 23 from the field and securing a 31-21 lead at the end of one following the buzzer-beating midrange jumper of back-up point guard, Simmons. Simmons had five of his seven points to finish the first before exiting early in the second with an aggravated ankle injury.
Jonathan Simmons will not return due to aggravating his ankle.— DoYouBelieveinMagic (@DYBinMagic) December 30, 2018
But the tide would turn once the Pistons’ reserves hit the floor. The Magic’s offense fell asleep up 37-23, and Luke Kennard and Zaza Pachulia would lead the squad to a 10-0 run, and 18-4 overall to tie things up at 41 apiece. The two would combine for 21 points in a 38 point second quarter for the Pistons.
The Magic lost much of their off-ball movement with Simmons off the floor, and went away from attacking the paint, instead kicking it out Mo Bamba who would shoot just 1 of 5 in the quarter. Bamba struggled on both ends as he would miss his rotations on the other end, allowing the Pistons to shoot 13 of 25 in the second quarter.
But order would be restored once the starters returned, and closed the half 62-59 behind a combined 40 points from Gordon (15, five rebounds), Vucevic (14, eight rebounds) and Augustin (11 points, six assists).
HALFTIME on #NBA League Pass: @OrlandoMagic lead 62-59, Aaron Gordon scores 15 PTS (6/7 FG) with 5 REB. #PureMagic— NBA (@NBA) December 30, 2018
Nikola Vucevic: 14 PTS, 8 REB
DJ Augustin: 11 PTS, 6 AST
Luke Kennard: 13 PTS, 4 REB, 3 AST pic.twitter.com/4nlDZu2Eqx
The Pistons and Magic continued their back-and-forth play, finishing the third quarter locked near a stale-mate at 85-83. Drummond led the way for the Pistons with 10 points, while DJ, Gordon and Vucevic combined for 14 of the 23 points.
The biggest highlight was the crisp footwork executed by Vucevic on Andre Drummond.
Welcome to Nikola Vucevic's ballet class pic.twitter.com/iVY8pcrVcV— The Crossover (@TheCrossover) December 30, 2018
The Orlando Magic opened the fourth by finally managing to create some distance between they and the Pistons with an 8-0 spurt, created by back-to-back threes from Augustin in addition to this sweet pass to Vucevic.
Go D.J., cause that's my D.J. pic.twitter.com/5eEfuS2jw4— Orlando Magic (@OrlandoMagic) December 30, 2018
“Drummond closed out on me,” Augustin said. “(He) thought I was gonna shoot it, so I drove past him, and I knew Griffin was going to have to make a decision. Stay with me or go to Vuc, so when he came to me, I knew Vuc was wide open.”
The 95-87 lead would be tenuous, as the Pistons would climb back to 97-93, followed by another 7-2 run by the Magic to take what looked to be an insurmountable 104-95 lead with but 3:34 to play.
But the Pistons wouldn’t go away, as Bruce Brown, Reggie Jackson and Reggie Bullock combined for the Pistons’ 9-1 run to narrow the gap to 105-102 with 30.6 seconds to play.
With just over nine seconds, Gordon would loft the pass over the head of Terrence Ross for the deciding slam, and what looked to be the Magic victory.
But on the other end, Jerian Grant would commit the cardinal sin, fouling Bullock, who calmly hit all three of his free throws.
With just 2.5 seconds remaining, it was Fournier time, and the rest was history.
Augustin led the Magic scoring with 26 points to go along with eight assists. Gordon had 22 and 10 rebounds, and Vucevic had 22 points, 11 rebounds and four assists. Fournier added 13 points, five rebounds and four assists.
Augustin did turn his ankle early in the fourth. He would return and play 38 minutes and had this to say after the game:
“Right now, it’s sore. It’s pretty painful right now. As you can see, I’m icing it right now, going to get treatment when I get to the hotel in Charlotte. See how it feels tomorrow, try to go tomorrow.”
Kennard led the Pistons with 16 points and six rebounds, Griffin had 15 points and five assists, Drummond had 14 and 13 rebounds, Bullock had 12 and Brown had 10.
Next the Magic head to Charlotte to face the Hornets on Monday night at 6 p.m. eastern time.
Head Coach Steve Clifford had this to say on his return:
“(It’s) another game. Listen, we’re back to three games under. I love my time there, it was great. You got to be locked into the game. It’s hard enough having just 24 hours to get ready.”