In a game deemed a must win by multiple members of the team, the Orlando Magic, on paper, seemed to have the advantage. With the Washington Wizards arriving in Orlando late Thursday evening after a tilt with the Golden State Warriors, and the Magic having been off since their loss in Brooklyn on Wednesday, things seemed to point in a positive direction for the hosts.
Despite their rest advantage, the Magic looked like the team on the dreaded second night of a back-to-back and not the Wizards. After blowing an 18 point second-half lead, the Wizards put enough plays together late, knocking off the Magic 95-91.
Washington used hot shooting from a former Magic man, as well as a big night from their soon-to-be All-Star guard, to top the Magic. Jeff Green knocked down six three-pointers en route to 24 points, while Bradley Beal made five of seven from beyond the arc, finishing with a team-high 27.
The Magic leaned heavily on their own, possibly, soon-to-be All-Star in Nikola Vucevic, with the big man tallying a game-high 28 points to go with nine rebounds. Aaron Gordon, who struggled shooting the ball from the start, rallied in the second half, finishing with 22 points, 11 rebounds and six assists. Terrence Ross added 16 off the Magic bench.
Shots clanked off the rim left and right for the Magic, who shot a dreadful 17-47, including 3-21 from three in the opening half. The offense lacked flow, with many possessions ending in forced shots that ultimately clanked short off the rim. On the occasion they got inside the paint, layups rolled helplessly off the rim, with a few ending in put back dunks from Jonathan Isaac and Gordon, but many leading to scoring opportunities for Washington.
The only thing that seemed to give the Magic offense any calming effect in the half was Nikola Vucevic, who took advantage of mismatches on many occasions in the post. The potential All-Star center made seven of his 10 attempts from the field to lead the Magic with 15 points in the half.
As Washington employed a lineup without a traditional center, they were able to take advantages of mismatches late in the half, finishing the quarter on a 15-5 run behind hot three point shooting. The group of Jeff Green, Otto Porter, Trevor Ariza, Bradley Beal and Tomas Satoransky scored all 15 points from beyond the arc, and clearly frustrated the Magic’s defense. Their hot three-point shooting in the half gave them a 12 point lead, 50-38, going into the half.
“Well, the second half wasn’t too bad at all,” said Magic coach Steve Clifford about the offense. “It was the first half where we were 3-for-21 (from three). They were wide open. It had nothing to do with ball movement. You miss that many wide open shots, — we had at halftime that 19 of the 21 were wide open — and we missed those shots.”
Picking up where they left off at the end of the half, Washington kept putting the pressure on the Magic on both ends. Their continued success from beyond the arc saw them push their lead up to as many as 18. As shots continuing to clank off the rim for the Magic, things began looking bleak for the slumping Magic.
Then, with the reserves in, the Magic got the boost of energy they were desperately searching for.
Behind stifling defense, and improved player and ball movement on the offensive end, the Magic strung together a 14-2 run at the end of the quarter to cut the Washington lead down to six. Terrence Ross electrified the crowd with a thunderous baseline slam, and capped the quarter off with a rare three-pointer for the struggling Magic.
Continuing their run into the fourth, the Magic quickly cut the Washington lead down to one thanks to two buckets from a heating up Ross. After Mo Bamba knocked away a pass attempt, Aaron Gordon found a high flying Ross for an alley-oop. On the following possession, Ross knocked down a three to cut the lead to one, before Washington quickly pushed it back to six.
After going back-and-forth for a few minutes, a set of dunks from Ross and Jonathan Isaac brought the Magic back tied with 4:24 remaining, prompting a Washington timeout.
A pair of free throws from Bradley Beal put Washington back up two, before a tip in from Gordon drew it even once again. On their next trip down, Vucevic gave the Magic the lead once again after scoring on the undersized Jeff Green.
Beal drove around Vucevic, and finished with authority to put tie the game back up at 91 apiece. On the ensuing trip down the floor, Vucevic was fouled in the post, sending him to the line with a chance to give his team the lead. Vucevic, who shoots 78 percent from the line on the season, saw both slowly roll off the rim.
“I missed two free throws, with the game tied, with 40 seconds left and a chance to win the game,” said a dejected Vucevic when asked what he thought happened on the night. “I didn’t come through for my team at the end. We fought our way back. We had a chance. I got fouled. Two free throws, I should be able to make those at the end. I failed us.”
After Vucevic’s missed free throws, Green put the final dagger in his former team, driving down the lane and finishing over a contesting Gordon. On the next trip down, Gordon had the ball poked away, giving Washington another chance to put the game away.
Out of a timeout, the Magic trapped Beal, forcing a turnover and leading to a potential chance to tie the game. A driving D.J. Augustin fumbled the ball away as he tried to find a charging Vucevic.
Ariza knocked down a pair on the other end to put the game on ice for good.
Now sitting at 20-29 on the season, the Magic face a difficult upcoming stretch that could ultimately determine their season. Orlando travels to Houston on Sunday night to face the Rockets, before returning home for contests against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Indiana Pacers and Brooklyn Nets at home.
“Like I said this morning, every game is very important to us,” said Evan Fournier, who once again struggled with his shot on Friday night. “It’s just when you play against teams that you’re going to fight against to get in [and lose] it makes it even worse, for sure. So we dropped a big one.”