The knock on the Orlando Magic this season is that they’ve come up empty more often than not against playoff caliber teams. It has already happened time and time again over the 2019-20 campaign.
The Magic have actually defeated only one team that currently sits in the top seven in the Eastern Conference standings: the Philadelphia 76ers. And Friday night, the Magic got them for a second time.
It wasn’t pretty for Orlando, especially at the end of the game, but the Magic were able to hold off the Sixers and earn a critical 98-97 victory. The Magic led by as many as eleven points with just under two minutes remaining in the game, but some missed free throws to close the game out allowed the Sixers to get a shot attempt off to win the game.
All-Star center Joel Embiid, who led all scorers with 24 points, fired a deep three-point attempt at the buzzer that missed badly, and Orlando escaped with the win.
“Obviously, that’s a good win,” Coach Steve Clifford said during his post-game conference. “Hard fought, physical game. (We) did better on the glass, much better defense.”
Evan Fournier led the way for the Magic with 20 points (8-14 from the field). Orlando outscored Philadelphia in the paint 44-32, and the bench outscored their opponent’s second unit 26-14.
Terrence Ross scored 17 points and pulled down 7 rebounds off Orlando’s bench.
Neither team looked very sharp to begin the game. It sort of looked like an exhibition game in the sense that both the Magic and the Sixers were getting whatever open looks at the basket they wanted. Not a whole lot of effort on the defensive end was being exerted. However, not a whole lot of shots were falling either.
Keep in mind, the Magic last played on Monday night prior to Friday night’s contest. It’s relatively rare for a team to get four days off in the middle of the season (let alone coming off a holiday at home). Coach Clifford called a first quarter timeout less than five minutes into the game, likely to account for the guys knocking some early holiday rust off.
Markelle Fultz made his presence felt right away against his former team. The former Sixers first overall pick knocked-down a three-point field goal from the top of the key to get the Magic started. He later finished two difficult attempts at the rim. Moving without the ball, Fultz finished a pass from Nikola Vucevic off a nice cut in the paint. Fultz muscled his way to the rim for another lay-in on Orlando’s next offensive possession.
The Magic shot a lowly 32 percent from the field in the game’s opening period, but the 76ers were luckily just as cold (they also shot 32% from the field).
Embiid scored 7 of his 24 points in the first quarter, but the Magic did a solid job on the rest of Philadelphia’s roster. Unfortunately, two costly Orlando fouls in the final minute of the first quarter put the 76ers ahead early.
The lead actually changed 13 times in the first half of Friday’s contest. Orlando got an offensive lift from their sixth-man extraordinaire Ross, who scored 11 points in 14 first half minutes. Ross connected on two three-point field goals in the second quarter, and he was fouled shooting a three-point attempt as well. Sixers guard Josh Richardson was actually assessed a technical foul for his reaction to the call after fouling Ross (coming off a screen at the top of the key).
Fultz buried another three-point attempt midway through the second quarter. The Sixers were making a point all night to go under screens (and dared Fultz to shoot from the outside).
Fournier’s ball-handling also led to multiple field goals in the second quarter. Fournier set-up Vucevic at the rim stemming from a pretty two-man game, and then Orlando’s starting shooting guard converted a couple floaters of his own in the lane after shaking free from his man.
A Ben Simmons tip-in at the horn put the Sixers up one heading into intermission.
A crucial moment in the game came with just over seven minutes left in the third quarter when Aaron Gordon was called for his fourth personal foul. Gordon had been defending Simmons for the majority of the game up to that point. The Magic were forced to go with a little less size defending the Sixers, who sport one of the tallest starting lineups in the league.
As it turned out, Coach Clifford’s team was able to fight their way back into the game, outscoring Philadelphia 17-9 from the moment Gordon picked-up his fourth foul through the rest of the third quarter.
The Magic were able to hold the Sixers to 21 points in the third quarter on 8-19 shooting (42%) and took a three-point lead into the game’s final twelve minutes.
After a handful of unsuccessful offensive possessions, Clifford wisely called timeout with 6:49 left in the game and the Magic clinging to a three-point lead. The decision proved to be a wise one, as the Magic immediately converted an uncontested lay-in off a baseline out-of-bounds play (caught Embiid napping).
The home crowd at the Amway Center was on their feet after Vucevic knocked-down a three-point field goal from the wing, followed by a rim-rocking dunk from Gordon off a lob from Fournier that put the Magic up by double-digits.
But miraculously, with just minutes left to work with, the Sixers were able to cut the contest down to a one possession game.
Both Fultz and Fournier missed critical free throws that could have put the game away.
And surprisingly, with the lead (and the ball), Clifford elected to call timeout and advance the ball with five seconds remaining in the game (rather than just in-bound the ball under the basket and get fouled).
Orlando turned the ball over in-bounding the ball from mid-court, and the Sixers had a clean look at a shot attempt to win the game.
It wasn’t meant to be for the Sixers, and the Magic were able to get away with a win.
“The end wasn’t great, but we can clean that up,” Clifford added after the game. “But it’s a good win against a good team.”
Orlando will turnaround and play a difficult back-to-back in Milwaukee tomorrow night. The Bucks, currently at 28-5 (15-2 at home), own the best record in the NBA.
Former Magic forward Tobias Harris scored 24 points to go along with 11 rebounds for Philadelphia.