By John Denton
November 6, 2012
CHICAGO – This contest, much like the one being played out across America on a much grander political stage Tuesday night, also featured a veteran incumbent hailing from Chicago and a hungry upstart with big dreams and hopes of winning over hearts in Florida.
The Orlando Magic, in the role of the surprising upstarts, showed toughness and poise throughout Tuesday, leading after each of the first three quarters. But in the end, it was the veteran Chicago Bulls who got hot at the right time and pulled away to defeat the Magic 99-93 at the United Center.
Cue the political comparisons with basketball imitating politics on this night.
For the Magic (2-1), the sour fourth quarter knocked them from the ranks of the NBA unbeatens. Despite low expectations from many in the national media, the Magic started the season with thrilling home defeats of Denver and Phoenix and put a legitimate scare into the Bulls.
But the Bulls (3-1) did what veteran teams playing at home so often do – they turned it on in the fourth quarter to secure the victory. Chicago made seven straight shots – all jumpers – to start the fourth quarter. And over the course of the first nine minutes of the final period, the Bulls hit 10 of 12 shots to surge into the lead.
Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said the loss rammed home the thought that Orlando has to play as a team and continue to share the ball. Vaughn thought that the Magic’s offense bogged down in the fourth quarter, especially during the first 6:13 of the final period when Orlando had just one basket.
``When we shared the basketball, we got good looks tonight. But when it turns into a one-on-one contest, we’re not going to get good looks,’’ Vaughn said. ``The ball started to stick a little bit and we didn’t move as much as we needed to. And a couple of shots didn’t go in that we needed. So it was a bad combination.’’
The Magic led by a point after the first quarter, by three points at halftime and they took a slim two-point margin into the fourth period. But that lead disappeared when Chicago’s shots started falling and Orlando’s didn’t. The Magic stayed close into the final minute, but the only intrigue at the end came when the Bulls missed three free throws and cost booing Bulls fans a free hamburger when the team missed 100 points.
The Magic were led by veteran guard Arron Afflalo, who kept them close throughout with 28 points and three 3-pointers. E’Twaun Moore, who started a second consecutive game in place of Jameer Nelson (strained hamstring), scored 17. The game was somewhat of a homecoming for Moore, who hails from East Chicago, Ind. He made seven of 13 shots and three 3-pointers.
``(Moore) has been great for us,’’ Vaughn said. ``He’s really stepping up and playing with confidence. And he’s had good decision-making with only one turnover tonight. So (more) good minutes from him.’’
The Magic, who shot 41.9 percent for the game, made just nine of 24 shots in the fourth period. The Bulls hit 12 of 21 shots in the final 12 minutes. Vaughn’s message to his team was that it has to continue to believe in playing team basketball, while sharing touches.
``We have to continue to share the basketball,’’ the rookie coach said. ``At the end of the day, that’s where our success lies. That includes sometimes drawing in a double team and creating for a teammate. Because of the way that Chicago plays (defense), that was stressed at the beginning of the game. And when we shared the ball we got good looks.’’
Long-time Magic killer Luol Deng had 23 points, eight rebounds and four assists. Joakim Noah had 20 points, nine rebounds and five blocked shots. And Taj Gibson scored seven of his 12 points in the decisive fourth quarter.
Magic power forward Glen ``Big Baby’’ Davis, who came into the game fourth in the NBA in scoring at 25.5 points per game, struggled all night finishing around the rim against Chicago’s bigger forwards and centers. After scoring 29 and 22 points in the Magic’s first two games, Davis finished with 16 points on seven of 22 shooting before fouling out with 23.1 seconds left. He attempted a questionable 3-pointer with 56 seconds remaining and the Magic trailing 93-89 at the time.
``Today was a big learning lesson for us and I think it’s going to help us coming up,’’ Davis said. ``We still feel something special here and we’re going to keep fighting until we accomplish every goal that we want to accomplish.’’
J.J. Redick, Orlando’s most consistent player during the preseason and early regular season, didn’t get as many looks at the basket as the first two games. He had 10 points and seven assists. He was four of 11 from the floor and two of six from 3-point range. Redick said people throughout the NBA shouldn’t be shocked that the Magic won their first two games and nearly toppled the Bulls on Tuesday.
``We came into the season with the expectation that we’d be a team that played hard and played together,’’ he said. ``You do that in this league and you’ll win your fair share of games.’’
The Magic close the first roadtrip of the season Wednesday night in Minnesota when they face a Timberwovles’ squad without the services of Kevin Love (broken hand) and Ricky Rubio (knee surgery). The Magic will be back at the Amway Center on Friday when they host the new-look Brooklyn Nets.
Afflalo carried the Magic offense in the third quarter as Davis and Redick were having slow offensive nights. Afflalo’s three free throws after beign fouled on a 3-point shot gave the Magic a 66-59 lead late in the third period. Afflalo had eight points in the third quarter to steady the Magic offense.
Vaughn altered his rotation somewhat in an attempt to combat the size of the Bulls. He used Nikola Vucevic (7-foot) at center, Gustavo Ayon (6-10) at power forward and Josh McRoberts (6-10) at small forward for long stretches. It worked too, with the Magic leading the rebounding battle after each of the first three quarters.
Vaughn figured Tuesday’s game would serve as sort of an early litmus test because of the Bulls’ rugged front line. Vaughn challenged his team to ``hit first’’ and be the ``early aggressors,’’ and that was the case as the Magic led the rebounding battle 23-19 in the first half. That tough play inside and some stellar shooting helped the Magic take a 48-45 lead into the locker room at halftime.
Redick, Orlando’s best passer all season, had four more assists in the first half to go along with his five points. He had Orlando’s play of the year so far in the second quarter, deflecting a loose ball to Nikola Vucevic for a dunk that gave the Magic their biggest lead of the first half at 48-41.
Before Tuesday night, Magic point guard E’Twaun Moore had three double-digit scoring games in his NBA career – and all of them had come in Orlando’s Amway Center. But the East Chicago native, who started in place of the injured Jameer Nelson (strained hamstring) needed just a half to do it versus the Bulls. Moore made four of eight shots and two 3-pointers in the first 24 minutes for 10 first-half points.
Early on, the Magic turned a potential negative into a positive and showed the Bulls that they would be sticking around for a fight all night. The Bulls stormed to an early eight-point lead behind some solid play from Deng.
But as has been the case already many times this season, the Magic offense jump-started once Redick came into the game. A stretch of nine straight points – started with a Redick jumper and ended with a Redick 3-pointer – gave the Magic their first lead of the night. And when reserve point guard Ish Smith, who was critical of himself for being hesitant on his jump shot in Sunday’s win, drilled a jumper at the end of the first quarter, the Magic had a 24-23 lead.
``The Bulls did a good job of getting us out of our stuff,’’ Davis said. ``We have to give credit to them because they have a great defensive team. But at the end of the day we have to go out there and do what we need to do and execute on the offensive end.
``There are no all-stars on this team and any night any one can be the leading scorer. But we still need to help each other,’’ Davis continued. ``Tonight we kind of got away from that a little bit.’’
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