The Orlando Magic did something Friday night they’ve struggled with a few times already this year. They came out of halftime with enough focus, determination, and requisite energy to close a tight game out.
Evan Fournier exploded for 26 points (5-6 3PTA’s) and Terrence Ross chipped in 20 points off the bench to lead Orlando to a 111-109 come from behind victory over the San Antonio Spurs.
Orlando, who has been one of the least prolific teams in the league at getting to the free throw line over the course of the last few seasons, marched to the charity stripe 34 times against San Antonio (27-34 FTA’s, 79.4%).
“You’ve got to give them credit (too),” Spurs coach Greg Popovich said after the game when asked about the free throw disparity in the game (Spurs finished 6 for 10). “It must be that they drove it pretty good, got to the rim, and we’re out of position and had to foul (probably).”
Orlando uncharacteristically struggled with careless turnovers in the first quarter of Friday’s contest. The Magic turned the ball over five times in the opening frame (led to eight San Antonio points), often resulting from a lack of focus and awareness when possessing the basketball.
Wes Iwundu, who has primarily found himself out of Coach Steve Clifford’s regular rotation, was called upon early due to Michael Carter-Williams getting called for three personal fouls on a single defensive possession.
A Patty Mills three-point make, who burned the Magic with nine first half points (13 total points), gave San Antonio a double-digit lead early in the second quarter.
Because they’re led by All-Star’s DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge, two throw-back players on offense (who don’t shoot a lot of three’s), the Spurs are generally not regarded as a very explosive offensive team from long-range. However, San Antonio knocked down six three-point attempts against the Magic in the first half, three of them coming from Bryn Forbes (13-26 in the game as a team).
Al-Farouq Aminu, who started the game for the Magic in place of Jonathan Isaac (rolled ankle), scored 8 points and grabbed 8 rebounds in the first half. He provided Clifford’s team with a massive lift, finishing the game with his first double-double in Orlando (13 points, 13 rebounds, 2 steals in 30 minutes).
“Chief (Aminu) was amazing,” Ross said in front of his locker after the game. “He played great, had almost a double-double by the half. He had a lot of hustle plays, defensive plays, stops. Without those rebounds in the first half, it would have been tough to go on a run.”
Playing poorly coming out of halftime is something that has plagued Orlando numerous times already this season. That wasn’t the case against the Spurs, as the starting back-court of Fournier and Markelle Fultz combined to score eight of Orlando’s first ten points of the half.
The Magic absolutely blitzed the Spurs in the third quarter, establishing a 22-10 run coming out of intermission.
Orlando briefly took the lead after a made Fournier three-point field goal (17 points in the second half), but the Spurs quickly regained the momentum (and their lead) following a failed dribble hand-off by Mohamed Bamba - which led to a Mills steal and layup at the other end.
Bamba, the sixth overall pick in last year’s NBA Draft, finished with 3 rebounds and 2 turnovers in 11 minutes (0 points).
Ross scored five quick points in a furious 90-second stretch that saw the Magic regain the lead midway through the fourth quarter, but the Spurs again had an answer in the form of an Aldridge 21-foot jumper (followed by a three-point field goal by Forbes). Orlando’s sixth-man scored 10 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter. Friday night was the first time this season Ross scored 20 or more points.
Spurs starting point guard Dejounte Murray came up huge in the fourth quarter on back-to-back possessions. First, the fourth-year guard knocked down an impressive jumper off the dribble as the shot-clock was winding down, and then he chased down a ‘50/50’ loose ball on the following possession (which immediately led to an Aldridge dagger three-point make).
Orlando immediately responded, going on a 7-0 run to draw even with the Spurs at 99-99 with just under three minutes remaining in the contest.
The Magic clutched to a four-point lead after Fournier connected on a three from the top of the key, but the Spurs responded with a three-point field goal from Trey Lyles, followed by a beautiful spinning layup from DeRozan.
The play of the game came from none other than Fournier, who buried a somewhat off-balance three-point field goal from the wing (off the dribble) with 1:15 remaining in the game to put the Magic up 107-104. Orlando didn’t have a whole lot going for them in the possession as the shot-clock was nearing an end.
“I think that you can see it these last few games, he’s in rhythm,” Clifford said during his post-game conference. “The second one he hit was the one going to his right on the sideline there was a very, very difficult shot. And obviously that was the biggest shot of the game.”
San Antonio was charged with a flagrant one foul on Aaron Gordon with just under 14 second remaining in the game. The Magic were able to make enough free throws down the stretch with the game on the line to get the win.
DeRozan led the Spurs with 21 points (9-15 FGA’s).
The Magic were playing without Isaac, who has unquestionably been Orlando’s best defensive player this season. It’s unclear whether he will be able to play Sunday against the Washington Wizards.
“That’s what good teams do,” Fournier said after the victory when asked about playing without Orlando’s young forward. “When you have a guy down, the next one steps it up and (playing) well.”