In the first half, it seemed the Magic should be more concerned with holding onto the eighth seed than trying to get the seventh seed.
But after seemingly shooting themselves out of the game, going down by as many as 19, the Magic were a different team in the second half en route to a 115-113 comeback victory over the Nets. With the win, the Magic pulled within 1.5 games of the seventh-seeded Nets in the race to avoid Giannis and the Bucks in the first round.
The Magic, coming off a 39 percent shooting performance in their loss to the Mavs (including 9 of 43 from three), shot just 35.6 percent in the first half (16-for-45), making just 3 of 18 attempts from three (16.7 percent). The lone bright spots for Orlando were Evan Fournier (14 points) and Aaron Gordon (10 points), who shot a combined 10 of 20 from the field. The rest of the team? 6 of 25.
The Nets, who got into the paint with ease and shot over 50 percent in the half, led by as many as 16 and took a 54-41 lead into the break.
That lead reached 19 when Joe Harris drained a lead to put the Nets up 67-48 three minutes into the third. The Magic offense finally came to life as they staged a run to get back into the game. A floater by Vucevic, who had 12 points in the third after being held to just two in the first half, cut the Nets’ lead to 73-59. It was the start of a 10-0 Magic run that was capped with a Terrence Ross three-point play in transition, pulling the Magic within 73-67 with 4:40 left in the quarter.
Gordon’s three with 30 seconds pulled the Magic within four, and Orlando would enter the fourth trailing just 87-81. The Magic, after scoring just 41 first half points, dropped a 40-spot in the third as they shot 68 percent in the quarter (15 of 22).
After an aggressive drive and layup by Ross, MCW picked off a pass and raced down court for the dunk to bring the Magic within two at 87-85. It was two of the Magic’s 14 points off turnovers in the second half, after scoring zero in the first.
The Magic took their first lead since early in the first when Gordon found a cutting Ross for the reverse dunk to make it 88-87. By getting to the basket, instead of trying to shoot his way into rhythm, the torch was lit.
The Magic would make their first seven shots of the fourth, and shoot over 60 percent in the half, during what became a shootout. Ross drained three triples in a 1:50 span, the third of which put the Magic up 102-100. Fultz followed with a layup to increase the lead to four with 6:52 to go.
After the Nets regained a one-point lead, Vucevic was stuffed on a dunk attempt by Jarret Allen for the second time in a 50 second span, but AG grabbed the loose ball and hit a fadeaway to put the Magic back in front at 108-107 with four minutes to go.
The teams continued to exchange leads until a key stop and ensuing bucket by Vooch. Vucevic defended Dinwiddie well on the perimeter as the shot clock was winding down, forcing an off-balance step back three that missed badly. At the other end, Vooch threw down the dunk to give Orlando a 110-109 lead.
Gordon followed a pull-up, and after an Allen alley-opp, a step-back three for a 115-111 lead with 1:12 remaining.
A dunk by Allen pulled the Nets within two. Vucevic missed an open baseline jumper that would have made it a two-possession game. The Nets offense stalled at the other end until Dinwiddie found a cutting Caris LeVert for what seemed like an easy lay-up, but Gordon came flying in for the block, and off the loose ball, Prince missed a potential go-ahead three with 10 seconds left.
Gordon grabbed the rebound and was fouled, giving the Magic a side-out. With Steve Clifford standing beside the ref at mid-court (this after switching which ends of the court the Magic would have possession on in the second half following this season’s referee timeout blunders), Clifford was apparently ignored again, and Fultz tossed a risky lead pass to Fournier that ended up out of bounds. An angry Clifford let the refs have it once again, but possession went to the Nets with a chance to tie or win.
The Magic defended the final possession beautifully with MCW forcing Prince into a difficult, contested three that drew air.
It was a crucial and thrilling, Jekyll-and-Hyde is in for the Magic:
First half: 16-for-45 FG (35.6%), 3-for-18 from three (16.7%)
Second half: 28-for-44 FG (63.6%), 10-for-16 from three (62.5%)
Gordon finished with 27 points and 10 rebounds, hitting all three of his second half three-point attempts. Ross, after being held scoreless on 0-for-6 shooting in the first half, went 8-for-9 in the second half for 21 points. Fournier had 21 points on 8 of 16 shooting. Vucevic, after scoring two first half points, finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds. James Ennis, making his second straight start, added 13 points.
The Magic, now 1.5 games back of the Nets for seventh and 4.5 games ahead of the Wizards for eighth, complete the quick two-game road trip on Wednesday in Atlanta.