Magic vs. Sixers: Postgame Report

By John Denton
March 20, 2017

ORLANDO – Some 30 minutes after the Orlando Magic had come back from the dead and rallied to beat the Philadelphia 76ers 112-109 in overtime, Frank Vogel’s one-word, block-lettered message remained on the dry-erase board.

It read, ``ENERGY!’’ and one by one several Magic players pointed to the head coach’s message as the turning point in a night where the team slogged through a mostly listless first three quarters before finally finding a spark in the fourth and overtime.

Down as much as 17 points in the third quarter and nine to start the fourth, the Magic were the aggressors in getting the game to OT. And when struggling shooting guard Terrence Ross buried a 16-footer with 34.7 seconds left in OT to break a 104-all tie, the Magic were finally – at long last – on their way to their first winning streak in 12 weeks.

None of it – not the second-half rally or the second-straight win – would have been possible without the Magic (26-45) meeting Vogel’s demands for energy and his refusal to accept anything less than maximum effort.

``We know coming back from the West Coast there’s always a dip in energy and we talked about it and addressed it and we just said, `This is not good enough,’’’ Vogel recalled. ``That was the theme of the halftime speech. It was that we had to bring it and it’s not OK to just come out and settle for not having energy; we had to find it if we’re going to become a playoff-caliber team and build winning habits. You’ve got to find energy when it’s not there.’’

Orlando (26-45) defeated the Los Angeles Lakers and the Memphis Grizzlies on Dec. 23 and 26, but incredibly it then went the next three months without stringing together consecutive victories. On Monday, the Magic finally put that forgettable streak to rest by following up Friday’s win in Phoenix with a defeat of the short-handed 76ers (26-44). It was their 11th try at stringing together two wins in a row and finally they did so with a stirring fourth-quarter rally.

``It depends on if you want to win or not – that’s what it comes down to,’’ said Magic forward Aaron Gordon, who had 17 points and four assists in 31 minutes before fouling out. ``If you don’t want to win, then sure, use that as an excuse that you can’t find energy. If you want to win, then do it and find a way.’’

Center Nikola Vucevic, who has a long history of playing well against a Philadelphia team that drafted him in 2011 and traded him to Orlando in 2012, scored 26 points and grabbed 13 rebounds. Ross (four-of-15 shooting), Fournier (19 points) and Elfrid Payton (10 points and 13 rebounds) struggled through rough nights with either shooting woes or foul trouble.

Bismack Biyombo had his finest game in weeks, giving Orlando seven points, six rebounds and a blocked shot off the bench. He scored five points in the fourth quarter and he had a huge block at the rim to prevent a dunk that livened up the Amway Center crowd of 16,236.

Orlando shot just 37.6 percent from the floor and made just four of 23 3-point shots. Philadelphia wasn’t much better, shooting 38.2 percent while making nine of 34 threes. The Magic compensated for their poor shooting by making 38 of 46 free throws – 16 more makes than the Philly.

``We knew before the game that they are an aggressive defensive team and they foul a lot,’’ said Fournier, who made just six of his 10 free throw attempts. ``The key was to stay aggressive and make free throws, which I didn’t do. But we just stayed in attack mode, basically.’’

Philadelphia missed two chances to win the game in the final 20 seconds of regulation. Down one with 20.7 seconds remaining, Sixers forward Justin Anderson made just one of two free throws. Then, after a Fournier pass to Vucevic was disrupted by T.J. McConnell, Philly got the ball back for the final possession with 5.7 seconds remaining. However, Anderson was stripped at the rim by Payton to send the game into overtime.

Philadelphia dressed just nine players for Monday’s game. Ben Simmons (foot fracture), Joel Embiid (knee) and Jerryd Bayless (wrist) have been shut down for the season, while Jahlil Okafor (knee), Tiago Splitter (calf strain) and Gerald Henderson (rest) were held out of action. The 76ers saw Dario Saric and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot foul out in the fourth quarter. Later in overtime, a third player – Richaun Holmes – also fouled out, leaving the Sixers just six available players.

Holmes and Robert Covington each scored 24 points and they combined for 27 rebounds for Philadelphia, while Saric pumped in 18 points. T.J. McConnell added 16 points and 11 assists for the 76ers.

With the game tied an 11th time on the night at 104, Ross curled around a Vucevic screen and didn’t hesitate on his 16-foot jumper even though he was enduring a three-of-14 shooting night before the decisive heave. Ross, who was acquired in the Feb. 14 trade with the Toronto Raptors, said his struggles never crossed his mind before the tiebreaking shot.

``I’m always trying to stay positive and keep shooting,’’ Ross said. ``Some shots are going to call and some aren’t. As long as you hit those ones that count, that’s all that matters.’’

Seconds later, Ross rebounds missed runner by McConnell – the hero of Philadelphia’s win in Orlando earlier in the season – and sank two free throws with 17.4 seconds left to put Orlando up by four. Nick Stauskas (19 points and three threes) buried a 3-pointer to trim the lead to one. From there, Fournier and Jodie Meeks drilled free throws to clinch the win.

Down 56-41 at the half following an unsightly 30-16 second period, Orlando saw the deficit swell to as much as 17 before finding a bit of life at the end of the third. That allowed it to get within 83-74 by the start of the fourth and set the stage for the late rally. Once the Magic finally got their turnover woes stopped – they have 14 in the game’s first 28 minutes – they rode Vucevic’s 10 third-quarter points.

``We made better plays late, we didn’t turn the ball over a much and we were able to make some shots,’’ said Vucevic, who hit just 10 of his 23 field goal tries. ``Defensively, we did a good job of defending and getting out and running.

``I thought during the whole game we were trying and even when they built the lead we were trying to make something happen,’’ Vucevic continued. ``But we made a lot of sloppy plays and had some bad defensive plays. But, for the most part, the effort was there and we were just smarter at the end of the game.’’

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