Nothing has come easy for the Orlando Magic this season.
After being the hottest team in the league before the All-Star break, the Magic stumbled out of the gates post break, dropping two of their first three to the Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks, two of the worst teams in the league this season. Sandwiched between those two losses was a convincing win in Toronto against the Raptors, the second best team in the Eastern Conference.
Their loss to the lowly Knicks on Tuesday night was especially frustrating, after the team dropped a double digit lead late in the fourth, thanks in large part to poor shooting, which trickled down into their defense.
Thursday night against the two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors, they saw much of the same thing happening, just this time they found themselves with more time to bounce back.
After leading by as many as 11 in the opening half, the Magic saw their lead quickly evaporate in the third, with the Warriors outscoring them 30-11 in the quarter, as the Magic made just five of their 23 attempts from the field. The struggles on the offensive end once again leaked into the defensive end, allowing Golden State to go up by as many as 13 late in the quarter.
The wind had seemingly come out of the Magic’s sails, with it appearing slim they would make a comeback.
Then, suddenly things changed, thanks in large part to Orlando’s surging second unit.
Behind Isaiah Briscoe, Terrence Ross, Wes Iwundu, Aaron Gordon and Khem Birch the Magic began to chip away at the Warriors lead. Briscoe, who missed the teams previous two games in the NBA’s concussion protocol, pushed the pace, and pestered Quinn Cook and Stephen Curry, forcing tough shots and frustrating the two Warriors ball handlers.
Ross, who once again struggled with his shot going just 5-14 on the night, knocked down a pair of three balls, which coupled with a driving layup from Briscoe brought the Magic within five. Out of a Warriors timeout, Jonathan Isaac, who subbed in for Gordon at the dead ball, finished a driving layup and an alley oop on back-to-back possessions.
Suddenly the Warriors lead was just one, and the wind was not only back in the Magic’s sails, but blowing harder than it had all night.
“I mean, [being down] 11 at home, that’s not where you want to be against them, but certainly it’s not the end of the world,” said Magic coach Steve Clifford when asked about the resiliency his bunch has shown. “You’ve got to play a good three or four minutes, and that’s what we did. It was that group of Isaiah, Wes, T-Ross, AG and Khem, they played a good four and a half, five minutes there and they set the tone defensively for the fourth quarter.”
That stretch changed the direction of the game, and put the Magic fully entrenched in yet another tight one.
After Ross tied the game at 89 with his third three ball of the quarter, Golden State quickly pushed the lead back up to five, prompting a Magic timeout. Out of that break, the Magic pounced, and fast.
Nikola Vucevic, who had a relatively quiet night, split a pair of free throws, and scored on a jump hook to cut the lead to two. On the ensuing possession, Gordon knocked down a huge three to put the Magic up one.
They never looked back, capping off a 14-2 run over that final three minutes and 20 second stretch to knock off the defending champs.
“It’s great man, it’s great,” said Gordon when asked about the resiliency the team showed bouncing back after the brutal third quarter. “We can fight back, and the more we play at a standard and a level of consistency, the better it’s going to be for us down the stretch.”
The victory was yet another notch in the win column for the Magic after being tied, or trailing entering the fourth quarter.
Gordon said it can be attributed to the amount of play makers the team has, and how they’ve stepped up late in games. While they might not have one “go to” scorer, they have multiple players who have come up big late in games, and that was the case once against on Thursday night.
From Ross’ big set of three balls, to Briscoe throwing his body around and changing the pace of the game — he finished with a career-high nine rebounds — to Gordon’s big buckets late, the Magic did it by committee once again.
“That was terrific,” said Evan Fournier about the teams fourth quarter performance and comeback. “The guys on the court did a great job defensively, they kept playing hard, they were tight on Steph. You know, he had a stretch in the third quarter where he was really hot, but with someone like him, what can you do? But, you know, we stayed with it and it paid off.”
Orlando’s resiliency has been tested multiple times throughout the year, and Thursday was yet another test, and one they passed with flying colors.
Now, with 19 games remaining, they turn and set their sights on a playoff spot, a stretch that will once again continue to test their resiliency.