Down by three late in the fourth quarter, the Orlando Magic (8-11) needed someone to step up and make a big shot.
Throughout the night, those shots came from the likes of Terrence Ross and Evan Fournier. This time, however, it was Markelle Fultz that gave the Magic the boost they needed.
Fultz, who scored eight of his 14 points in the final quarter, knocked down a step back jumper to cut the Golden State Warriors (4-17) lead to one. After a stop, Fultz drove to the basket and finished at the rim, giving the Magic a one point lead. It was a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
“He had the great drive, and he hit the pull-up to his left hand,” said coach Steve Clifford praising the plays Fultz made late. “We hadn’t scored for four or five possessions, and we were right back in the game. He (had) nine assists and no turnovers which is great basketball.”
Without those late buckets from Fultz, it’s possible the Magic don’t eek out their 100-96 victory on Sunday night at the Amway Center.
It wasn’t just Fultz who came up big late for the Magic, however.
Terrence Ross, who finished the night with 19 points, knocked down a key second chance three from the right wing putting the Magic back up by four after the pair of buckets from Fultz. A few possessions later, after the Warriors had cut the Magic lead back to one thanks to an Alec Burks three, it was Fournier’s chance to make one final impact on the game.
On a side out of bounds, Fournier got the inbounds pass and sized up the defense. Earlier in the night, he had used the same move on Draymond Green for a step-back jumper. This time was going to be different.
“I saw the switch coming, so I told Khem [Birch] to just get out,” said Fournier. “Draymond anticipated it and switched. I had a three pointer from the same spot earlier on, and I thought he was anticipating a little too much on that three, that step back. It opened up a lane to drive.”
Fournier, who once again led the team in scoring, drove through contact and finished a tough layup at the rim, giving him a career-high tying 32 points on the night. The layup would put the Magic back up by three, but not get them out of the danger zone.
On the ensuing possession, Fultz fouled Burks as he came around a screen with just under seven seconds to play. The foul sent Burks to the line — he would split the pair — and keep the Magic’s lead intact. After Johnathan Isaac secured a big defensive rebound, the Magic used their final timeout to advance the ball and try to close the game out. They were unable to, with Aaron Gordon drawing a five second call after he failed to inbound the ball fast enough.
Golden State still had a chance, and got a good look from Burks, but his three-point attempt clanked off the rim, and Gordon got the rebound and knocked down a pair to cap off the Magic victory.
It wasn’t always easy for the Magic, who struggled to get things going on the defensive end in the first half. Golden State picked them apart to the tune of 34 points in the paint in the opening half, and despite making just one three-pointer, found themselves level with the Magic at the break.
In total, Golden State finished with 48 points in the paint.
“We were in better stances, we moved our feet better, we had more determination,” said coach Clifford when asked about what changed in the second half. “They crushed us in the fist quarter. They had 34 at halftime. We did much better (in the second half). . . They’re doing a great job.”
The adjustments the Magic made defensively in the second half were key in their seesawing battle all night. If they continued to let the Warriors beat them off the dribble and with off ball and player movement, they could’ve walked away with another excruciating loss.
Six Warriors finished in double figures, led by Glenn Robinson III’s 19. Eric Paschall added 17, as all five Warriors starters scored at least 11 points on the night.
Now, with a win in hand, the Magic look to build some momentum on the road in Washington against the Wizards. With a slightly easier stretch of games this week — the Magic play Phoenix and Cleveland after their tilt in Washington on Tuesday night — they have to take advantage and get some wins before the schedule toughens up.