The night began being all about who wasn’t on the floor for both the Magic and the Mavericks in a contest that bared serious lottery implications.
It finished being about who was on the floor, notably Coach Frank Vogel’s second unit. For the second consecutive night, Orlando was able to ride their bench contributions en route to a win. Last night it happened in New York. Tonight, Orlando’s bench unit combined for 48 points and played the majority of the fourth quarter as the team defeated the Dallas Mavericks 105-100.
“That was great for them,” Vogel said of his second unit. “That’s what this time of year is about. A time for those guys to not just get overall minutes, but closing minutes. A chance to get in there and get closing game experience.”
Rookie Jamel Artis, who set a career high in points last night against the Knicks (16), topped that mark with 18 points on 8 for 13 shooting from the field Wednesday.
“My teammates believe in me a lot,” Artis said in the locker room after the game. “I’m going to go out there and do what I’ve been doing my whole life - play the game the right way.”
Both clubs were playing Wednesday night on the second night of back-to-backs. Separated by one half game coming into the night, the news continually rolled in throughout the day regarding who was being held out of action.
Dirk Nowitzki, Dennis Smith Jr., Wes Matthews, Harrison Barnes, Dwight Powell, and Nerlens Noel were all missing in action for the Mavericks. Nikola Vucevic, Jonathon Simmons, Jonathan Isaac, Evan Fournier, and Terrence Ross were in street clothes for the Magic.
The Magic received early contributions from Bismack Biyombo and Aaron Gordon. Biyombo scored eight of Orlando’s first 13 points while Gordon led the Magic with 16 first quarter points.
It was a nice response from Gordon (6-10 from the field in the opening period, 2-4 from 3PT) after his clunker of a performance last night in New York.
Behind the first quarter efforts of Biyombo and Gordon, the Magic converted nine second-chance points and jumped out to a double-digit lead.
The Mavs chipped away at Orlando’s lead in the second quarter behind a 15-4 run mid-period. Forward Maxi Kleber came off Dallas’ bench to score nine second quarter points.
The Magic got a nice first half lift off their bench as well. Artis reached double-figures quickly, scoring 10 points in 16 first half minutes.
The game stayed relatively close in the second half, with neither team extending their lead by more than nine points.
Interestingly enough, Kleber, who was behind the Mavericks run in the second quarter, was on the floor when Dallas pulled within five in the fourth quarter. But Coach Rick Carlisle inexplicably pulled Kleber from the game (12 minutes, 9 points, +9, 4-4 FG) early in the fourth.
“I know what those guys (Kleber and Yogi Ferrell) can do,” Carlisle said after the game. “This is a chance for the Jalen Jones’ and the Kyle Collinsworth’s and those guys to get a shot.”
A Shelvin Mack three with just under four minutes remaining in the game stretched Orlando’s lead to six points. But on back-to-back ensuing defensive possessions, the Magic were unable to pull down a rebound, which led to four crucial Dallas points.
An Aaron Harrison three cut Orlando’s lead down to just one with 2:50 remaining. However, back-to-back buckets from Mario Hezonja and Khem Birch with less than two minutes remaining pushed Orlando’s lead back to five.
Kyle Collinsworth (13 points, 9 assists), who played nearly the entire second half for the Mavericks due to J.J. Barea leaving the game with an injury, made things interesting with two late buckets.
But Birch sank two clutch free throws with 22 seconds left to secure the win for the Magic.
Hezonja had an off shooting night (5-14, 12 points), but still produced a solid overall floor-game, finishing with 8 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 blocks, and 2 steals.
“His energy is always good,” Vogel said of Hezonja. “He’s definitely making improvements on that end of the floor (defensively). There’s no doubt about it. Especially with plays in the paint, not getting out of the way like he did earlier in his career.”
Gordon set the tone at the start of the game for the Magic, but the night belonged again to Artis.
“This means a lot to me. For a guy that wasn’t drafted. You know, coming in here and being humble - sticking with it, staying in the gym,” Artis said. “When my name is called, I want to make the best of it.”
With four games remaining on Orlando’s ‘17-’18 schedule, you certainly can’t dispute that Artis is doing just that.