With the Amway Center nearly silent, and the Magic reeling from what was a woeful third period, Terrence Ross went to work and saved Orlando’s season.
Ross hit three consecutive three’s in the last minute of the third quarter to help push Orlando to a critical 114-100 win over the New York Knicks Wednesday night.
Ross finished with 23 points, the 17th time he’s scored 20 or more points off Orlando’s bench this season. The Magic bench outscored the Knicks’ second unit 36-18.
Orlando enjoyed a massive rebounding advantage over New York Wednesday night, pulling down 55 boards (19 offensive rebounds). Nikola Vucevic was a big part of that, grabbing 13 rebounds in the contest, to go along with 29 points.
The Magic began the game very flat defensively. Their lack of energy helped the Knicks get off to a hot start. Offensively, the Magic weren’t a whole lot better in the first quarter. Orlando turned the ball over five times in the game’s first six minutes (New York took advantage with nine points off Orlando turnovers in the first quarter).
Steve Clifford’s bench picked up the starters late in the first quarter, charging out on a 10-0 run as soon as the reserves entered the game. Back-up point guard Michael Carter-Williams, whose second 10-day contract with the team will end tomorrow, sparked the early run with relentless effort.
First, Carter-Williams kept an Orlando offensive possession alive with a rebound, which led to a Jonathan Isaac reverse layup. The following defensive possession, Carter-Williams blocked Kevin Knox from behind, which led to a Ross three-point make.
The Magic starters were a little better their second time around on the floor. Evan Fournier was notably good in the second quarter, scoring 12 of his 19 points in the period.
Vucevic led all players with 17 first half points as the Magic took a double-digit lead into halftime.
Orlando’s first unit began the second half the same way they began the first half: playing poorly. An opening 12-3 New York run cut Orlando’s lead to six points.
A Mario Hezonja runner in the paint late in the third quarter pulled the Knicks within four points, and a Hezonja three-point make from the corner a few possessions later trimmed the margin to three points. Hezonja, who played 219 games in three seasons with the Magic, scored 29 points in his first game back in Orlando (a new career-high). Hezonja has shot a career-low 27.7% from behind the arc this season in New York.
In a game they had to have, the Magic were being outplayed in the second half by a team that has been focused on the lottery since, well...November. Orlando shot 7-24 (29%) through the first 11 minutes of the third period.
And then Ross happened.
A miscommunication between Hezonja and Luke Kornet on a pick-and-roll left Ross (as the ball-handler) wide-open on the wing for a three-point jumper with just over a minute remaining in the third quarter. Ross followed that up with another three off the dribble from the top of the key, freed-up from another hard screen by Khem Birch. Finally, with the shot and game clocks winding down, Ross buried a deep three-point attempt from the left-wing to send the game to the fourth quarter.
Back-to-back triples from Aaron Gordon in the fourth quarter gave the Magic enough of a cushion to close out the game over the lowly Knicks. Gordon scored 8 of his 19 points in the game’s final period.
In a somewhat interesting development, Carter-Williams received all twelve fourth quarter minutes against the Knicks. He was huge defensively and came up with some key rebounds for the Magic late in the game.
Knox, who played high school basketball at Tampa Catholic, scored 21 points for the Knicks in a losing effort.
Every remaining game for the Magic is as critical as can possibly be at this point in their season. Orlando will be back in action Friday night at home against the Atlanta Hawks.
The Magic will need to be sharper against Atlanta than they were tonight, that’s for sure. Friday night is another game they have to have.