A night removed from an inspiring, come-from-behind victory against the Boston Celtics, the Orlando Magic suited back up for an equally tough challenge against the Houston Rockets. The Magic once again put together a furious late rally to knock off the Rockets, 116-109 at home.
Much like in Saturday night’s victory, the Magic came out flat on both ends, lacking a needed sharpness and purpose of play. The offense struggled to find balance with spacing, leading to poor, highly contested shots on many possessions, and a slow influx of turnovers kept the Magic them from finding any rhythm on the offensive end. For the quarter, the Magic shot a dreadful 8-of-22 from the field, including 0-of-5 from beyond the arc.
While they were able to hold James Harden to just 3-of-9 shooting, Harden’s teammates were able to put some pressure on the Magic defense getting out in transition for some easy baskets. Harden’s gravity on the offensive end alone gave the Magic some problems, with players helping off their men on drives, leading to open passing lanes. After one Houston led the Magic by eight, 26-18.
Needing a spark, Steve Clifford turned to his second unit of Isaiah Briscoe, Evan Fournier, Terrence Ross, Aaron Gordon and Khem Birch. Like they did on Saturday night, the group gave the Magic a quick boost, helping them cut the Rockets lead down to one possession on a few occasions. Gordon once again was aggressive getting to the basket, opening up offense for other teammates in doing so.
After holding Harden to three makes in the first quarter, the Magic did just as well in the second, allowing the blazing hot All-Star to shoot just 6-of-16 in the half, though he did flirt wit a triple-double adding nine assists and seven rebounds. At the halftime break, Houston held onto a semi-commanding seven point lead, up 59-52.
Out of halftime, the Magic look reenergized for much of the quarter, going punch for punch with one of the leagues best once again. Much like the first half, as the Magic cut into the lead, they were never able to get it below two or three points, until a late hook from Nikola Vucevic tied the game up at 84. After a pair of free throws from Terrence Ross gave the Magic a brief 86-85 lead, Harden was fouled on a three-point attempt, leading to Houston taking a two point lead, 88-86, into the fourth.
The Magic shot the ball better in the third, and had a better overall purpose of play on both ends after a sluggish first half. Gordon continued to carry an overall heavy load, leading the way with 20 through three for the Magic.
Looking at a chance to sweep a challenging home back-to-back, the Magic were flat to begin the final quarter. Instead of having Gordon out with the second unit. Jonathan Isaac was out there, and it clearly disrupted the chemistry the unit and quickly built. Despite their struggles in the opening minutes of the quarter, Houston was unable to full pull away.
With their closing lineup out there, things once again began to click for the Magic. After a dump off to Vucevic on an ATO, Ross, Fournier and D.J. Agustin hit three’s on consecutive possessions, giving them a lead they would not relinquish.