It’s slaying-the-beast season for the Magic.
In recent weeks, Orlando has snapped a streak of 13 straight losses the Charlotte Hornets and a streak of 11 straight losses to the Warriors. On Saturday, they went to Indiana, where they had lost 10 of their previous 11 games, to play a team they had lost to in 19 of their last 22 meetings.
And, once again, the Magic prevailed, continuing to show that this is not the same old, post-Dwight Howard Orlando Magic. The Magic dropped 34 fourth quarter points against the Pacers, the league’s second best defense, en route to a 117-112 win.
The Magic haven’t just slayed the beasts that have long bullied this franchise, they have also slayed the league’s elite. Over their last eight games, Orlando has now defeated the top-three teams in the Eastern Conference: Milwaukee, Toronto and Indiana, as well as the Warriors (albeit without some opposing star power in each).
With the win, the Magic (improved to 30-34, reaching the 30-win plateau for just the second time since Howard left in 2012. And there are still 18 very important games to be played in the regular season.
If you tuned in a few minutes late on Saturday, you missed the Magic build a quick double-digit lead. The ball was moving well and the shots were falling in the inside-out offense as Orlando scored the first 10 points of the game, highlighted by a pair of threes by Jonathan Isaac.
The Pacers, though, chipped away and then went on a 19-6 run that gave them their first lead at 23-21 with about three minutes remaining in the first. It was tied at 27 after the first with the Magic shooting 52 percent from the field and the Pacers topping that at 60 percent. Evan Fournier scored nine first quarter points on 4-for-5 shooting to lead the Magic.
Myles Turner had eight first quarter points for the Pacers, including this nasty dunk on Isaac that will soon be sold in poster-form in Indiana...
The two teams traded buckets for a bulk of the second until the Pacers went on a 7-0 run that was capped by a three by Darren Collison to open a 55-47 Indiana lead. The Magic quickly responded with a 6-0 run to cut the deficit to two. During that stretch, D.J. Augustin raced down court off a turnover and rolled his ankle while planting his foot on a lay-up attempt. He soon checked out of the game and went to the locker room (he started the second half, before returning to the bench for the remainder of the game).
The Pacers went into the break with a 60-55 advantage. The Magic shot 51 percent in the half, while the Pacers connected on nearly 60 percent of their attempts. Collison led all scorers with 15 points and added six assists.
The Pacers hot shooting continued in the third as they built a double-digit lead of their own when they went up 72-62 with 8:23 remaining in the third. Vucevic scored 12 points in the third to help keep the Magic in striking distance. Orlando pulled within two after Terrence Ross connected on his first three of the game with 2:36 to go in the third, cutting the deficit to 81-79. The Magic entered the fourth trailing 87-83.
The Human Torch was officially ignited, and a pair off threes by Ross in the opening minutes of the fourth helped Orlando regain the lead as they took a 91-90 advantage with 10:38 left.
Ross would go on to score 16 points in the fourth quarter, including this dunk that increased the Magic lead to 109-102.
Isaiah Briscoe, playing with the first unit with Augustin out, converted a beautiful high-arching floater to increase the Magic lead to 111-104. The Pacers, though, refused to go quietly, making contested and well-defended shots throughout the fourth.
Wesley Matthews was fouled on a three-point attempt by Vucevic and converted all three free-throws to pull the Pacers within 111-107. On the ensuing possession, Ross was also fouled on a three, and took all three free throws right back.
With the Magic up 114-107, Collison drained a three. Off the ensuing inbounds, the Pacers then trapped (and fouled, IMO) Fournier, and stripped the ball for the quick lay-in to cut the Magic lead to two with 29.7 seconds left.
Out of a timeout, Fournier drained a three to increase the lead to five with 8.4 seconds left and seal the victory for the Magic.
Vucevic finished with 27 points and eight rebounds to lead the Magic, who shot 50.5 percent, including 10-for-28 from three (35 percent). Ross finished with 23 points on 8-of-17 shooting. Fournier had 19 points (7-for-12), eight assists and five rebounds. Aaron Gordon added 11 points (5-for-15), eight rebounds, six assists, and one huge chasedown block off a turnover in the closing minutes of the fourth. Isaac tallied 12 points and eight rebounds. Shout out to Jerian Grant, who in 12 minutes as back-up to Briscoe after Augustin went down, had seven points and two assists, including a big three in the fourth.
The Pacers shot 54.5 percent for the game, led by Collison, who finished with 23 points and 10 assists. Magic-killer Bojan Bogdanovic had an efficient 25 points, and Corey Joseph had 14 points in 22 minutes off the bench.
When you go into an arena where you have lost 10 of your last 11 games and beat the team with the second best defense in the league, on a night when they shoot 55 percent from the field and you lose your starting point guard, that is the making of a playoff team— Orlando Pinstriped Post (@OPPMagicBlog) March 3, 2019
The Magic move percentage-points ahead of the Hornets for the eighth spot in the East, though Charlotte still has two games in hand, and are just 1.5 games out of the sixth and seventh spots. Orlando has now won 10 of their last 13 games, and will look to win their third straight when they play at Cleveland on Sunday in the second-night of a back-to-back.
The Magic, who have suffered recent losses to the Bulls and Knicks, now must learn to slay the league’s tankers.