That spark came in the form of new comer James Ennis.
Ennis, whom the Magic acquired Thursday during the NBA’s trading deadline, is known for his knock down shooting ability, and strong defensive instincts. Monday night it was his energy, and high IQ plays that sparked the Magic, and the Amway Center crowd.
Having just re-taken the lead early in the fourth quarter, Michael Carter-Williams found Ennis, who was leaking out, after Carter-Williams stripped Jeff Teague at the free throw line. Ennis threw down a monster one handed jam that brought the Amway Center crowd to it’s feet, and prompted an Atlanta timeout. Out of that timeout, Ennis grabbed an offensive rebound on a miss from Terrence Ross, then as the ball rolled off the rim from a Carter-Williams miss, Ennis elevated and finished with a two-handed put-back slam.
The bucket put the Magic up five, a lead they wouldn’t surrender the remainder of the game.
“That’s one thing that you can do: control your effort,” said Ennis after the game. “Your energy, your hustle, your defense. That’s what I love to do. That’s what I want to bring to this team. Whenever my number is called I’m going to come out with energy, and hopefully it carries on, and other guys feel it.”
It wasn’t just Ennis’ big hustle plays that made a big difference for the Magic against the struggling Hawks.
Their offense, which has struggled through long portions of the season, had it’s highest output of the year, scoring 135 points in their victory. They also knocked down a season-high 18 three’s, topping their previous mark of 17 against the New Orleans Pelicans in December. The 18 three-pointers was also their first time hitting 18 or more since April of last year when they made 18 against the Hawks in a big 149-113 victory.
It wasn’t all pretty for the Magic offensively, or defensively.
After jumping out to an early 20-14 lead, the Magic watched the Hawks finish the opening quarter on a 14-2 run, led by guards Brandon Goodwin and Jeff Teague. The Magic were unable to stop Atlanta’s strong dribble penetration, and gave up easy looks after defensive breakdowns.
With the second unit in, the Magic got a little momentum going offensively, but continued to struggle guarding the Hawks’ strong guard play. Trae Young took advantage of that, drawing three fouls shooting three-pointers, leading to 11 trips to the free throw line in the half.
“They’re hard to guard,” said Steve Clifford of the Hawks. “They had 61 [in the first half] and he [Trae Young] had shot 11 free throws. A guy that good, he made 10 of them, you’re not going to have good defensive numbers. We struggled to guard them. They’re a handful.”
After the half, Young only attempted two more free throws all night. While the Hawks scored 65 points in the second half, the Magic’s ability to defend them without fouling as much was a big key in their victory.
Add in the balance the Magic had offensively with their hot shooting, and the recipe for success was perfect in a game the Magic had to win.
Orlando was led on the night by Aaron Gordon, who scored a team-high 26, and was one of four Magic players to finish with 20 points or more. The last time the Magic had four players do such was their victory against the Memphis Grizzlies on March 22nd last season.
Nikola Vucevic flirted with a triple-double on the night, finishing with 24 points, nine rebounds and nine assists. Evan Fournier added 22, with Ross knocking down five three’s en-route to 21 off the Magic bench.
Now the Magic turn their attention to the Detroit Pistons in their final game before the All-Star break. Last season the Magic found some momentum winning games leading up to the break, and it they can put together a good performance on Wednesday night, could carry much needed momentum into the second half following the break.