Having played the same position as legends such as Shaquille O’Neal and Dwight Howard, Nikola Vucevic’s place in Orlando Magic history may get lost in the mix from time to time.
Vucevic, one of just eight Magic players to make the NBA All-Star Game, has been a consistent scorer and rebounder during his time in Orlando. The Serbia native also been quietly clutch.
Vucevic showed some of that killer instinct on this day five years ago. His fade-away jumper at the buzzer staved off a furious rally and lifted the Magic to a thrilling 96-94 victory over the Atlanta Hawks.
Momentum was squarely on the side of Atlanta as Orlando got set to inbound with 2.2 seconds left to go on Feb. 7, 2016. The Magic had led by 14 late in the third and by eight more than midway through the fourth, but the Hawks were on an 8-0 run. Vucevic made the Amway Center crowd forget all about that.
Matched up with All-Star Al Horford, Vucevic was forced to work for the ball as guard Elfrid Payton was set to inbound. Vuecevic was able to make the catch about 18 feet from the rim with his back to the basket.
Forced to fade to his left and fire a rainbow over Horford, Vucevic’s shot went through. As the clock hits triple zeroes, Orlando had emerged at the buzzer.
Atlanta had not led since the game’s first 65 seconds as the Magic seemed in control most of the way. The Magic led by 11 at the end of the first quarter and 71-57 late in the third quarter when Atlanta’s Thabo Sefolosha hit from beyond halfcourt at the buzzer.
The shot seemed to ignite the Hawks, who opened the fourth quarter on a 9-1 run. Payton’s jumper with less than four minutes to go pushed the Orlando lead to 94-86, but the Magic would not score again until Vucevic’s shot.
After Sefolosha cut the lead to three with a deep three-pointer with more than two minutes to go, Kent Bazemore drew the Hawks even with a triple of his own with 48 seconds to go. After Vucevic was called for an offensive foul, Jeff Teague had a shot to put Atlanta in front and Paul Millsap had two more, but both missed as Evan Fournier came down with the rebound for Orlando and called timeout.
The Magic held the Hawks to less than 39% from the field, but Atlanta shot 13-for-28 from deep to hang around. Vucevic paced Orlando with 22 points while Fournier added 21 points on 7-for-14 from the field. Payton and Aaron Gordon each tallied double-doubles in the win.
Teague and Bazemore scored 24 and 23 points, respectively, in the loss for the Hawks. When it was all said and done however, Vucevic had the ball last and played the role of hero with the game-winning shot at the buzzer.
He knocked that down on this day five years ago.