Postgame Report: Magic vs. Bobcats (3/28/14)

By John Denton
March 28, 2014

ORLANDO – Much of the focus coming into Friday night’s game was how well Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic could handle his challenging defensive assignment against Charlotte all-star Al Jefferson. As it turns out, Jefferson had his hands quite full with Orlando’s blossoming big man as well.

Vucevic recorded the sixth 20-point, 20-rebound game of his career on Friday to put his Magic in position to topple the playoff-bound Bobcats at the Amway Center. Teammate Arron Afflalo hit a game-tying 3-pointer with 7.4 seconds remaining in regulation and then Vucevic and veteran point guard Jameer Nelson helped the Magic win it in overtime.

Vucevic, who carried his team all night with 24 points and 23 rebounds, opened the extra period with two free throws and Nelson had a clutch layup with 30 seconds to play in OT to seal Orlando’s thrilling 110-105 defeat of the Bobcats.

``It was great fight by all of the guys,’’ Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said. ``Whether it was the unit that started the fourth quarter and really got us going defensively to put up a 16-point quarter versus a team like that or the mental fight of Nik Vucevic, who starts out the game four for 14 and doesn’t give in and wills his way and helps is team. Pretty impressive in a lot of different ways.’’

Orlando (21-52) won a second consecutive home game to improve to a respectable 17-18 at the Amway Center this season. The Magic also won for a second time in overtime after losing their first five tries.

It was only fitting that the fantastic finish led to the Magic’s 1,000th win in franchise history. The milestone comes during a season in which the franchise is celebrating its 25th anniversary. Charlotte (35-38) missed a chance to gain on the reeling Washington Wizards in the pursuit of the sixth playoff seed in the Eastern Conference.

At the end of regulation, Afflalo gave the Magic a 94-93 lead on a free throw with 1:12 to play. But former Magic forward Josh McRoberts put Charlotte into the lead seconds later with a tough layup. Not to be outdone, Afflalo forced OT by burying a straight-on 3-pointer with 7.4 seconds left. Afflalo was shocked that Gerald Henderson went under the Vucevic screen, giving him more time to get off his tying 3-point shot.

Orlando then survived a Kemba Walker miss at the horn and thrived in overtime.

``When it comes to shots under 10 and 5 seconds, typically pressure kind of rushes you a little bit. I anticipated (Henderson) going over the screen and pulling up anyway, but when I saw he was stumbling under the screen it gave me an opportunity to relax and focus in,’’ Afflalo said.

Vucevic had 16 rebounds by halftime, but he grabbed just seven after halftime and in the overtime period for 23 boards. It was the most rebounds that Vucevic has had since he set the franchise record with 29 boards on Dec. 31, 2012 against the Miami Heat. The performance was Vucevic’s second 20-point, 20-rebound game of the season and his sixth in two seasons with the Magic. Ten of Vucevic’s rebounds on Friday were on the offensive end.

Vucevic’s work on the glass allowed Orlando to hold a 57-36 edge in the rebounding. Orlando had a whopping 19 offensive rebounds and they also took 21 more free throw attempts because of their hustle and grit.

``We were being very aggressive after our slow start,’’ Vucevic said. ``We kept it together and kept fighting. And once we got back into the game, I think we played even more aggressively on both ends of the floor. We definitely controlled the rebounds. I think we did a great job on the defensive end.’’

Magic power forward Kyle O’Quinn, who started his 10th consecutive game on Friday night, continued to play well with 13 points and seven rebounds. Tobias Harris had 15 points off the bench. Afflalo scored 17 points, while Victor Oladipo chipped in 15 points, while Nelson – who was playing for the first time after missing the past four games with a sore left knee – scored 11 points and handed out eight assists.

McRoberts, who played 41 games in Orlando last season before he was traded to the Bobcats, made a career-high six 3-pointers and scored a career-best 24 points points. The Magic dared him to shoot and he made them pay for a second time this season. Jefferson, who had 30 points against Orlando in January and dropped 31 on Vucevic last season when he still played for Utah, scored 20 points, but was held in check for the most part by the disciplined defense of Vucevic. Walker scored 24 points, but struggled in the fourth quarter and OT.

Friday’s game was the second of a four-game home stand at the Amway Center. Orlando hosts Toronto on Sunday night and the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday.

Down all night and tied twice in the second half, Orlando took its first lead of the game with 4:46 to play following consecutive jump shots by Nikola Vucevic. Vucevic, who missed 10 of his first 12 shots in the first half, thrust his fist into the air as the crowd roared with approval following the second jump shot.

The Magic played especially well on the offensive end in the third quarter, but they couldn’t cut much into a nine-point halftime deficit because of continued defensive woes. Orlando got within one point midway through the third, but because it gave up 31 points in the period they still trailed 81-74 heading into the final quarter.

Orlando finally turned things around by holding Charlotte to 16 points in the fourth quarter and eight points in the extra period. ``Personally I had a slow start in the second half and I got some of the vets mad with some of the decisions that I made,’’ said O’Quinn, who had three offensive boards early in the fourth quarter. ``I just wanted to come out with a clear mind. I talked to coach and he said, `Come out with a clear mind,’ and that’s what I tried to do.’’

The Magic trailed 50-41 at the half, and they were lucky to be that close considering their struggles on both ends of the floor in the early going. Orlando shot just 36 percent from the floor in the first two quarters and they were once again gashed by Josh McRoberts, who played for the Magic for 41 games last season. McRoberts, who made five 3-pointers earlier this season when dared to shoot, drilled his first four tries from beyond the arc on Friday night.

The game could not have started much worse for a magic team that fell behind by as much as 16 points in the first quarter. The Bobcats made eight of their first nine shots and all four of their 3-point tries to double up Orlando at 20-10 just minutes into the game. And when Cody Zeller got free for a dunk, the Bobcats had hit 12 of 20 shots (60 percent) and led 30-14.

Vucevic dominated the glass in the early going, grabbing 16 rebounds in the first two quarter. He had seven offensive boards and many of those difficult tip-in tries led to his two of 12 shooting in the first 24 minutes.

Said O’Quinn of Vucevic’s rebounding instincts: ``It’s incredible. Sometimes you sit back and say, `I’ve never seen anything like it.’ I’m happy that he’s on our team. Sometimes he gets boxed out and he still gets the rebound. He’s an outstanding rebounder and I try to learn something from him every day.’’