Denton: Magic Hope to Build Off Sunday's Win

By John Denton
Jan. 20, 2014

ORLANDO – In the grand scheme of things, Sunday night might have seemed simply like one game that officially wrapped up the first half of the NBA season. But to the Orlando Magic, there is hope that Sunday’s stirring defeat of the Boston Celtics will amount to so much more because of the many lessons culled from the game.

There was Arron Afflalo expending energy in different areas and tying a career high in rebounds. Tobias Harris was tearing up the floor in a full sprint on the fastbreak and later calmly hitting two go-ahead free throws. Jameer Nelson steadied the team with two 3-pointers late in the third period when the Magic seemed on the verge of crumbling yet again. And finally, Glen ``Big Baby’’ Davis and Victor Oladipo twice sacrificed their bodies while diving on the floor to secure loose balls.

It was the kind of relentless effort and selfless play that the Magic had discussed during a team meeting a day before. It was the kind of fight they had promised to play with. It was the type of sacrificing for the good of the team that finally allowed the Magic to win for the first time in nearly three weeks.

The hope now is that Sunday’s victory taught the Magic (11-30) something that they can put to use over the next 41 games of the regular season. When the determination was made that the previous ways weren’t working, the Magic decided collectively to make changes that will hopefully change their fortunes in the days, weeks and months ahead.

``The effort, togetherness and energy from start to finish, that’s what was the most rewarding about this win,’’ Afflalo said after the Magic beat Boston 93-91 Sunday night at the Amway Center. ``We actually grew (Sunday night). We’ve won games in the past, but maybe the other team didn’t play well. That’s not something that we can depend on. We have to play with great effort and play together as we go along.’’

The Magic’s newfound mission will be put to the test Tuesday night when they face the Brooklyn Nets at the Barclays Center. Orlando thumped the veteran-laden Nets early in the season when they were still figuring out how to play together. But Brooklyn has been playing much better of late and will be coming off a Monday afternoon game against the cross-town New York Knicks.

Sunday’s victory was significant for the Magic for more than it simply ending the 10-game skid that had bedeviled the team of late. It was significant because Orlando showed the grit to battle back from a poor start with an up-tempo second quarter. They weathered a poor third quarter by showing some toughness. And they made all of the right plays in the fourth quarter, whether it was Davis scoring 11 points in the final period, Afflalo converting a tying layup in traffic or Nelson and Harris hitting go-ahead free throws.

``All of us had to step it up and we had to play the game with more passion, more toughness and have a will to win the game,’’ said Harris, whose two free throws with 10.1 seconds left proved to be the winning points. ``It was just everybody buying in to making winning plays and playing with 100 percent effort.’’

And when the game was over, Harris threw his arms around Davis, Afflalo and Oladipo and the group celebrated as if this win had special significance. Right there at the free throw line, the group shared emotion and talked about how they won by playing with one common goal.

``It’s just one win, but at the same time it was a win to be excited about,’’ Harris said. ``It was a step in the right direction from (Friday). We had a goal and that goal was to push each other. We did that and it was exciting to win and we want to build on this. So our next game will be a good test for us.’’

As one of the team’s more veteran players, Afflalo has been talking to teammates about the need to sacrifice themselves to making winning plays. Afflalo knew that Orlando needed rebounding Sunday night and ultimately tied a career high with 13 boards. And his grit on the glass was infectious as six of the seven Magic players who saw action all grabbed at least five boards apiece.

``The things that we discussed about intangibles, sometimes it will show up on the stat sheet. But it’s that energy and effort and drive from within to try and win the game that we had to have,’’ Afflalo said. ``When you are focused on winning the game and not on what you are doing individually you end up making those types of plays.’’

Magic head coach Jacque Vaughn is far from pleased with the team’s record and its struggles of late, but he was encouraged by the selfless play that he saw on Sunday night. And he pointed out that Orlando’s all-out hustle and sharp execution allowed it to win a close, back-and-forth game that it might have struggled with in the past.

Three weeks ago, Orlando squandered a seven-point lead in the final 13 seconds and lost in overtime in Cleveland. Last Wednesday, Orlando lost a 15-point third-quarter lead and a three-point advantage in overtime in a triple-OT defeat against Chicago. But on Sunday, the Magic made all the right plays to win a close game for the first time in more than a month. That, Vaughn stressed, is significant progress.

``You take our last three close games and you see how bad we were (in Cleveland), and then the one in the middle (against Chicago) and now you come to the one where our execution was good,’’ Vaughn said. ``We executed out of timeouts and got scores every time. We made winning plays at the end of the game. Glen diving on the floor and Vic diving on the floor – those are winning plays. For us to go through a Chicago game, a three-overtime game, that helped us tonight.’’

Vaughn said the record might not show it and players don’t always see it, but the Magic are better than they were early in the season because of the experiences they have been through. Vaughn was struck by that very fact this week as he was scouting the Boston Celtics prior to Sunday’s game. Then, after watching the Magic make the kind of plays to beat the Celtics, Vaughn knew that his Magic had made significant strides.

Now, he added, the key is to keep improving and make the next 41 games special.

``We’ve gotten better as a ball club,’’ he said. ``We played Boston on Nov. 11 and to watch that film and see the progress from then to now – the players don’t always see it – but being in the right spots, sharing the basketball … we’re trying to do the right thing. We’ve had some hiccups because of injuries and things of that nature, but overall guys have gotten better because we’re trying to play the right way, and that’s by playing together.’’