The Orlando Magic, who came into Friday night’s game averaging 104.6 points per game (29th in the NBA), exploded for a season-high in points as they pulled away in the second half from the Minnesota Timberwolves, 136-125.
Minnesota has now dropped 19 of their last 21 games, although they did score a win Wednesday night in Miami (their last time out).
Terrence Ross scored a season-high 33 points (19 of those points coming in the fourth quarter) off Orlando’s bench, and Nikola Vucevic added 27 points and 10 rebounds.
“He (Ross) doesn’t need much to get himself going,” Steve Clifford said after the game during his post-game conference when asked whether he was surprised about his sixth-man’s performance. “Look at how many times he did that last year. I’m not at all surprised.”
Aaron Gordon recorded the first triple-double of his career against Minnesota Friday night, scoring 17 points, pulling down 11 rebounds, and dishing-out 12 assists (career-high).
The Magic forced the Wolves to burn an early timeout just minutes into the game after they jumped out to a 5-0 lead, punctuated by a James Ennis dunk in transition setup by Gordon. Orlando converted six of their first ten attempts from the field.
Minnesota eventually settled in, and even briefly took a first quarter lead, thanks in part to their starting point guard - D’Angelo Russell. The fifth-year guard scored 12 of his 28 points in the game’s opening period.
Gordon did a little bit of everything for the Magic in the game’s opening quarter, scoring six points, grabbing five rebounds, and dishing out five assists in the period.
Neither team provided much defensive resistance in the painted area in the first half. Orlando and Minnesota, two teams ranked near the bottom of the league in offensive efficiency, combined to score 134 points in the game’s first half (combined 66 points in the paint).
Orlando took their first double-digit lead of the game stemming from a Ross three-point field goal from the left-wing (his third of the first half), followed by a Markelle Fultz reverse layup off an offensive rebound where he simply out-hustled (and out-muscled) a Minnesota defender.
Behind a 14-3 mid-second quarter run, it appeared the Magic were going to run away with the game, but Russell brought his team back again - burying multiple long range attempts off the dribble. Veteran forward James Johnson also proved to be a thorn in Orlando’s side, scoring 12 of his 17 points in the first half.
Juan Hernangomez drilled a three from the right-wing to give Minnesota the lead early in the third quarter, capping a 12-2 Wolves run. Made jump-shots on back-to-back offensive possessions by Russell gave the away team their largest lead of the game to that point. The Magic just had no real defensive answer for the former second overall pick.
The Magic posted a 7-0 run of their own towards the end of the third quarter, finished off by a D.J. Augustin three-point field goal that gave Orlando the lead once again. All in all, the home team finished the period on a 20-7 run (a lot of that run coming with Russell on the bench).
Ross officially lit his torch to begin the fourth quarter, burying his first three field goal attempts to push Orlando’s lead back to double-digits. Ross made Minnesota pay for beginning the period in a zone defense, scoring Orlando’s first ten points of the quarter.
Ross followed his three consecutive jumpers with a thunderous dunk off a baseline cut (set-up by Gordon), and Augustin converted a transition layup moments later forcing Minnesota to call timeout down 14 points.
The Timberwolves shot their way back into the game (again), hitting six three-point field goals in the fourth quarter.
A huge momentum swing in the game occurred when Gordon, for a third-straight game, blocked a shot at the rim during a critical moment in the contest with the outcome in the balance. The Magic scooped-up the Gordon swat and ran out the other way, leading to a Vucevic layup in transition (and a four-point swing).
A Ross three-point field goal with 4:17 left in fourth, his seventh of the game, put the game away for good.
Orlando finished the game shooting 54.1% from the field (53 for 98 FGA’s). Their 54-33 rebounding advantage in the game, coupled with their 66 points in the paint, proved to be deciding factors in the contest.
“I thought we played hard, the turnovers were obviously not okay,” Clifford said after the game. “I just told the guys...we’re competing hard, we’re playing well on offense. But if we don’t get back to the way we’re capable of defending though, it’s fools gold. You’re going nowhere, we’ve got to start defending.”
The Magic must now complete the second half of a challenging back-to-back on the road in San Antonio tomorrow night.