As the games continue to tick down for the Orlando Magic, the product on the floor gets seemingly better every night.
Friday night everything was on full display, as they took control of the Atlanta Hawks early, and never looked back. They saw shots drop left and right, and watched the defense fly around the court, getting deflections on countless trips, leading to easy fastbreak buckets.
The performance was one they needed with just three games remaining, and the playoffs within arms reach.
After a slow start against the lowly New York Knicks on Wednesday, the Magic had no problem Friday night, with the energy reverberating throughout the Amway Center from the opening tip. As shots continued to fall, the crowd got louder, and the bench celebrations got more and more flamboyant.
“Obviously we had great energy,” said coach Steve Clifford after the game. “We shot the ball very well early. You know, a couple of their guys didn’t play, but obviously it is an important win. We turned the ball over too much and we fouled too much, but this time of the year, we can correct that. It was an important win, and now we have to travel on the road and get a couple more.”
Jumping out early was a key for the Magic, who scored 42 points in the opening quarter, just two off the franchise record they set earlier this season in a win over the Knicks. They never looked back, holding a lead that never got below 27 in the second half, and peaked as high as 40 late in the contest.
The energy was palpable as the team fed off of the fans, much like the fans fed off the player high energy.
“We came out with so much energy, prolly the most we had all year” said Evan Fournier, who finished the night with a team-high tying 25. “The crowd was really into it. The bench was really into it. We kept making plays offensively and defensively, and we got the crowd going with a few dunks, a few threes. We won that game in the first quarter.”
After their big opening quarter, the Magic fell just two points shy of tying their franchise record for more points in a half with 81. They did, however, set a record for a first half, breaking the previous record of 78.
The laser focus and energy is something that coach Clifford has said his team needs to bring night-in and night-out, and that they’re more than capable of performances like this more often.
“Oh absolutely,” he said when asked if Friday night was an example of that. “I mean we had a lot, I mean we had a lot of guys play well, really well. I thought Jonathan Isaac was just, [on] both ends, before watching the film, just like I told them, just unbelievable. He came out well offensively, hit the three. He was running the floor. I think he had like four deflections by himself in the first quarter, and a lot of other guys were very good too, but again, before watching the film, he really stood out to me.”
Isaac himself was pleased with his performance early, and noted just how happy and impressed he was with the teams energy and focus level.
“I would say just the atmosphere in the building was fantastic from the second the ball jumped up,” he said. “Each guy, I just felt so locked in. I even said it from this morning how locked in I felt like we were from shootaround, and shots were falling and everybody was just in a great mood, and it definitely carried over to the game.”
Now with their home portion of the schedule finished, the Magic look to continue their strong play on the road in two must win games.
If they’re able to bring the same energy they did on Friday night, the sky is the limit for the team that now sits in the sixth spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs. They understand the importance of the next two games, and know they still have work to do.
“We just have to understand that, obviously we’re close, but that doesn’t mean it’s finished yet,” said Nikola Vucevic. “We have to take care of business the next two games. Obviously the first one will be very hard for us against Boston, they’re a good team, especially at home. We’re going to have to bring very good defensive energy, and try to get the job done. We’re very close, but other teams are very close to us, and it’ll be a fight till the end. There’s no slowing down until the end.”
Friday night was a big night for the Magic, and their ultimate goal is right there for the taking. It’s just a matter of them bringing the same energy they did Friday night on Sunday in Boston and Wednesday night in Charlotte.
If they’re able to do that, the ball will bounce on the Amway Center hardwood at least two more times this season.