Aaron Gordon Gets Triple-Double On Night Magic Score Season High
Magic Beat Wolves, Win Third Straight
ORLANDO – After doing everything he possibly could to put his Orlando Magic in position for another victory on Friday – this time compiling the first triple-double of his six-year NBA career – power forward Aaron Gordon had one task remaining after entering the locker room.
The 6-foot-9, 235-pounder had to try and outrun the band of teammates determined to douse him with water and handfuls of ice following the most complete performance of his career.
``They showered me and tried to cool me down,’’ Gordon said. ``Really, it should have been for (Magic guard Terrence Ross). I don’t know why they dumped water on me? I tried to get up out of here. I felt like I was getting jumped and I tried to get up out of here.’’
Maybe it was only fitting that the best sustained stretch of Gordon’s career was capped on Friday by the triple-double feat that had eluded him throughout his NBA career. Gordon scored 17 points, handed out a career-best 12 assists and grabbed 11 rebounds and he got plenty of help from Ross as the Magic defeated the Minnesota Timberwolves 136-125 for their third consecutive victory.
``I mean we’ve been saying that he puts us in a different place,’’ Magic head coach Steve Clifford said of his team’s potency with Gordon playing at an elite level in the past 12 games. ``He’s not just scoring, but he’s playing an all-around game, for sure.’’
Orlando (27-32) won for a fifth time in the past six games. The victory, combined with a third straight loss by Brooklyn, vaulted the Magic into the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference standings.
The Magic were able to weather another offensive onslaught from long-time Orlando killer D’Angelo Russell (28 points and five 3-pointers) when Ross scored 10 straight points to open the fourth quarter and poured in 19 of his 33 points in the final period. He made seven of 15 3-point shots and his 33 points were two shy of his high in a Magic uniform, which he set last season.
``I was kind of locked into the game, so I didn’t even notice that,’’ Ross said of scoring the first 10 points of the fourth quarter, a 12-minute stretch when the guard made eight of 11 shots and three of four 3-point tries. ``I was just playing with that focus. I made my first shot there in the fourth and once you see the ball go through the hoop that could trigger it for me.’’
Gordon’s 12 assists were a career high, topping the 10 he had last February in Oklahoma City. His passing helped spark the Magic to a season-best 36 assists and they also registered a season-high in points. Their previous high was 135 points versus Atlanta on Feb. 10.
``These last four games have to be up there for sure,’’ said Magic guard Evan Fournier, a teammate of Gordon’s the past six years, when asked if he’s ever seen the forward play better. ``The thing is he’s being efficient and he’s doing everything. He’s playmaking, his scoring and he’s being efficient. We obviously need A.G. to keep playing like this.’’
Veteran center Nikola Vucevic had 27 points, 10 rebounds and five assists against Minnesota (17-41). The Timberwolves, who were without star big man Karl Anthony Towns (injured left wrist), came into Orlando after having beaten the Heat in Miami on Wednesday. Russell, who came into the night averaging 22.6 points a game in 11 career games against the Magic, did not score after putting the Timberwolves up 89-83 late in the third quarter. He missed his final five shots.
Orlando shot 54.1 percent overall and made 12 3-point shots. Minnesota lost despite making 48.4 percent of its shots with 17 3-pointers. Afterward, Clifford fumed about Orlando’s defensive struggles of late.
``I just told the guys that we’re competing hard and playing better on offense, but this defense – if we don’t get back to defending the way that we’re capable of, it’s `fool’s gold’ and you’re going nowhere,’’ Clifford said. ``We’ve got to start defending. It’s just too many mistakes and we’ve got to put more into the defensive end.’’
Orlando, which is in a stretch of playing 15 of 19 games against teams with sub-.500 records, improved to 22-7 on the season against squads with losing marks. Also, the Magic moved to 22-2 when leading after three quarters.
Markelle Fultz chipped in 14 points and seven assists, while D.J Augustin had 12 points off the bench. Mo Bamba, one of the heroes of Wednesday’s win in Atlanta, had seven points, eight rebounds and a block before fouling out.
The Magic will be back in action on Saturday night, facing the Spurs in San Antonio, while also trying to end a couple of troubling skids. Orlando is just 1-8 on the second night of back-to-backs. The only win this season on the second night of a back-to-back was on Dec. 4 against Phoenix – a 128-114 victory that came when Gordon made 13 of 15 shots and scored a season-best 32 points. Another odd statistic: The Magic are 0-8 this season on Saturday nights. Four of those losses have come on the road and three of them have been on the second night of back-to-backs.
Whereas the Magic will likely be weary from playing on Friday and travelling from Florida to Texas, San Antonio should be rested from being off from games on Thursday and Friday. In 10 of Orlando’s 11 back-to-backs this season, their opponent will have had a night of rest while the Magic will be playing for a second consecutive night. Six times this season, the Magic’s opponent will have had at least two nights off to rest up for them. Spurs’ all-star center/power forward LaMarcus Aldridge (right shoulder soreness) has already been ruled as out for Saturday’s game versus Orlando.
Up four at intermission following a high-scoring first half, the Magic lost the lead early in the third period. However, they did have an unusual sequence go in their favor. After Gordon was whistled for a charging foul on a pass, Clifford issued a ``Coach’s Challenge’’ and won it to get the call reversed. Seconds later, Fournier drilled a 3-pointer to briefly give Orlando a lead.
Down as much as six points in the third period, Orlando closed the quarter with a 13-2 burst to take a 103-96 edge into the fourth. That has been a good sign for much of the season as Orlando came into Friday with a 21-2 record when leading after three quarters.
Ross then looked like the player who repeatedly won games for the Magic last season in the fourth quarter by scoring the first 10 points of the final period. He followed up two mid-range jumpers with 3-pointers to put Orlando comfortably ahead 113-103.
Late in the night, after Minnesota got within 122-116 of Orlando, Gordon had the defensive play of the game when he stuffed Malik Beasley’s running layup with his left hand. It was a play reminiscent of Monday night when Gordon preserved a 115-113 win over Brooklyn by stuffing Caris LeVert’s layup at the rim.
Orlando tied a season high for points in a first half by posting 69; however, the Magic defense yielded 65 points and eight 3-pointers to the Timberwolves in the first 24 minutes.
As he has done throughout his career, Russell had his way with Orlando’s defense in the early going. Rubbing off screens and shooting at will when Magic big men backed off to prevent drives, Russell had 18 points and four 3-pointers in the opening half. Russell, who scored 40 points in a win for Brooklyn last season at the Amway Center, came into Friday averaging 22.6 points in 11 career games against Orlando while playing for the Lakers, Nets, Warriors and Timberwolves.
The Magic opened the game with five straight points, prompting Minnesota coach Ryan Saunders to call a time out just 54 seconds into the game. Orlando later looked to be on the verge of blowing the T-Wolves out when it took a 61-48 with 4:23 left in the second quarter. However, a strange sequence of events allowed Minnesota to get back in the game.
After Russell buried a 3-pointer, Fournier was whistled for a foul and a technical foul with 3:40 left in the half. Fournier then asked head coach Steve Clifford to issue a ``Coach’s Challenge’’ on the play, but the coach declined after looking at the replay on the board above his head. Josh Okogie sank the technical free throw and then another, but he missed the third try. That rebound resulted in a Jordan McLaughlin 3-pointer. The five-point sequence helped Minnesota rip off eight straight points and get back in the game.
Gordon was at his do-everything best in Friday’s first quarter when he compiled six points, five assists and five rebounds. He came into the game having averaged 5.4 assists a game over his previous nine games.
``I care more about the win than the stats, every single day of the week,’’ Gordon said. ``That means more than any (statistical) number I could every put up. Stats are only fulfilling if you win.’’
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