The Orlando Magic lost their best defensive player the last time they took the floor for what looks to be an extended amount of time.
But this is the NBA, and no one around the league is going to feel sorry for the Magic for playing without third-year standout Jonathan Isaac. Everyone has injuries to overcome.
Friday night, the Magic passed their first test playing without their starting forward and defensive anchor, defeating the Miami Heat 105-85.
“I thought our defense was good, I thought our purpose was good,” Magic head coach Steve Clifford said during his post-game conference. “Obviously, that’s a really good win against a really good team.”
Miami was playing on the second night of a back-to-back after defeating the Toronto Raptors 84-76 at home Thursday night. The Heat, who have been one of the best three-point shooting teams in the NBA this season, shot a miserable 7 for 37 (18.9%) from beyond the arc against the Magic.
“They (Miami) missed some for sure (second night of a back-to-back),” Clifford said. “But again, before watching the film, I thought our defense was really good. That part of it, that multiple effort, cover, know who you’re closing to (particularly in the fourth quarter)...was really good.”
What amounted to a two possession game at the start of the fourth quarter turned into a runaway Magic victory in large part due to the Heat scoring a mere six total points in the fourth quarter. The six fourth-quarter Miami points tied an Orlando franchise record for fewest points allowed in any quarter (has happened on two other occasions: 12/7/93 vs. Detroit, 1/6/08 vs. Washington).
Terrence Ross led all scorers in the game with 25 points (6-10 3PTA’s). Nikola Vucevic recorded his 300th career double-double in the game, scoring 20 points and pulling down 11 rebounds.
It was a lively Amway Center crowd Friday night, admittedly more bipartisan than Magic fans would care to admit. Miami fans showed-up in a big way to support their team, and both teams seemed to feed off the extra energy in the building at the start of the game.
Orlando welcomed Aaron Gordon back to their lineup after a two-game absence due to a sore left Achilles. Gordon looked as bouncy as ever, recording three dunks within the game’s first fifteen minutes.
Awaiting Gordon’s return was Miami’s All-Star forward Jimmy Butler, who scored 8 of his 23 points in the first quarter - six of those coming in the painted area.
Ross provided the Magic with a huge lift off the bench early in the game, knocking-down three three-point field goals in the opening period.
Second-year center Mohamed Bamba displayed a ton of energy during his first stint on the floor, pulling down 9 of his 11 rebounds in eight minutes (in the first half). Bamba also tipped-in a missed layup by D.J. Augustin, and followed that with a thunderous dunk in the paint on Miami forward Kelly Olynyk (and he was fouled).
Ross continued his hot shooting in the second quarter, scoring nine more points in the period. Orlando’s sixth-man buried two more three-point field goals in the second quarter and led all scorers with 18 points in the first half.
Orlando led by double-digits at the game’s intermission, but their lead could have been more if not for a handful of shot attempts at the rim that were inexplicably missed.
Luckily for the Magic, the Heat suffered through a miserable first half shooting the basketball. Through two quarters, Miami was just 2 for 17 from beyond the arc (11.8% on 3PTA’s).
Butler made his presence felt throughout, but the Magic did a really nice job containing the rest of the Heat roster in the first half as they took a twelve point lead into the break.
Miami head coach Erik Spoelstra called timeout just under three minutes into the third quarter after Orlando converted three consecutive three-point field goals, one coming from Evan Fournier and two more from Vucevic.
The Heat responded well to the stoppage in play, coming out of the timeout on an 17-3 run to cut into Orlando’s double-digit lead, fueled by a couple three-point makes from Duncan Robinson.
Back-to-back three point field goals by Meyers Leonard cut the Magic lead down to four points, but the momentum immediately swung back in Orlando’s favor following a huge shot from reserve forward Wes Iwundu.
Leonard stole the ball from Augustin, but made a poor outlet pass that was scooped up by Markelle Fultz. Fultz found Iwundu in the corner, and the third-year forward made the Heat pay for not grabbing the loose ball.
On the next possession, Butler threw the ball away and Ross took it the other way for an easy dunk that got Magic fans back on their feet.
Orlando ran into a huge problem defensively in the third quarter, committing ten personal fouls in 12 minutes. Miami shot 14 free throws in the period, including three from Goran Dragic as a result of Ross being called for a foul on the Heat point guard with less than a second remaining in the quarter (as he was heaving the ball from mid-court).
A Gordon three-point field goal from the left-wing put Orlando up by 14 points with 6:27 remaining in the game, and the Magic never looked back from there.
When it was all said and done, Miami shot a putrid 3 for 19 (15.7%) from the field in the game’s final period. Miami’s six total fourth quarter points are the fewest scored by any team in any quarter in the NBA this season, and are the second fewest scored in a quarter in Miami Heat franchise history.
“Yes, we had some,” Spoelstra said when asked after the game about his team’s jump shots not going down. “But I think where you have to give them credit is they shut down the paint, shut down our layups, shut down a lot of the things that we’re used to getting.”
Gordon played 31 minutes in his return, scoring 16 points and grabbing 8 rebounds. Fultz recorded a career-high six steals.
Orlando received the news Thursday, following an MRI conducted by team doctors, that Isaac will miss 8-10 weeks (and then be re-evaluated after that) after suffering a left knee injury in Wednesday night’s contest against the Washington Wizards. Isaac avoided any major structural damage to his knee, but his sprain is severe enough to keep him out over the next couple of months.
“This helped a lot,” Ross said in the locker room after the game when asked about Isaac going down with a knee injury. “JI is a big part of our defense. I think everyone stepped up to another level (when he was missing from it). It was a good game for us.”
The next test for the Magic will come in less than 24 hours when the home team plays on the second night of a back-to-back against the Utah Jazz.