MINNEAPOLIS – Evan Fournier was in such pain on Wednesday night when his right elbow grotesquely hyperextended inward that his arm throbbed each time his heart beat and his fingers went almost completely numb.
However, not once did Fournier consider checking out of the game and abandoning his Orlando Magic teammates. Incredibly, even after spraining the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow and dealing with pain and swelling throughout Wednesday’s 116-113 loss in Miami, Fournier logged 31 minutes, scored 17 points and drilled three 3-pointers – even though at one point he wasn’t sure he had enough strength to get the ball to the rim from 26 feet away.
``I hadn’t touched the ball in like two or three trips since the (elbow injury) and at that point I was like, `I don’t know how I feel really, so the next time I get a semi-open look, I’m going to shoot it and see what happens,’’ said Fournier, who got hurt two minutes into Wednesday’s game when he dove for a loose ball and the force of hitting the floor caused his arm to buckle. `` `Hopefully, (the arm) doesn’t break or anything (on his shot)’ and I just let it fly off, and off pure muscle memory I was able to shoot the shot with the right motion and right arc. But, really, I didn’t feel anything because it was numb at that point.’’
An Orlando team in a fight for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference was forced to come to the realization on Friday that it will likely be without its second-leading scorer for the next several days and a few games. Fournier missed Friday’s game in Minnesota, and he almost certainly will be out the rest of this road trip that also features stops in Houston (Sunday) and Memphis (Tuesday).
Fournier, 27, came into Friday as one of just two players on the Magic – point guard Markelle Fultz is the other – to appear in 61 of the team’s 62 games this season. In addition to averaging a career-best 18.8 points per game, Fournier has chipped in 3.2 assists and 2.6 rebounds a game and has shot 47 percent from the floor and 40.6 percent from 3-point range. On the season, he has led the Magic in scoring a team-best 21 times and has registered 25 games with at least 20 points.
``All of it – his scoring, he guards primary scorers and, you know, his competitive spirit,’’ Magic coach Steve Clifford said of what his team losses without Fournier. ``We’re going to miss him in every aspect of the game.’’
In place of Fournier, the injury-ravaged Magic started Wes Iwundu on Friday night against the Timberwolves. The last time Iwundu started was on Jan. 15, when he poured in a career-best 19 points by making four of five shots, including a 3-pointer, and eight of his 10 free throws. Orlando remarkably stunned the West-leading Lakers in Los Angeles that night for one of their most significant victories of the season.
Orlando is also without starting power forward Jonathan Isaac (left knee sprain) and key rotation player Al-Farouq Aminu (right knee surgery). The Magic came into Friday having lost 140 player games to injuries this season.
``It’s obviously a big loss for us because he’s a very big part of what we do with his scoring and his (playmaking) ability on the ball,’’ Magic center Nikola Vucevic said of Fournier. ``It’ll be a big loss for us if he’s out for a while, but it’s kind of like all year long for us – one guy goes down and it’s on somebody else to step up, play meaningful minutes and try to play well. We’ll see how long it takes for (Fournier to return), but we’ll see. It’ll be next man up, and we’ll try to figure it out.’’
The Magic have been so short-handed all season because of injuries that Fournier actually wishes that it had been his left arm that suffered the sprain so that he could have tried to play through the pain. Just hearing him recount the injury is cringe-worthy and it says plenty about his ability to deal with pain that he wishes he could continue playing as he did on Wednesday after having his arm partially pop out of place.
``I think it was a hyperextension, and (the elbow) kind of went sideways. It’s basically like an MCL for a knee, but for an elbow,’’ Fournier said. ``If it was my left arm it would be fine because I don’t use it much. But the fact that I have to dribble with my right hand, shoot and all that, with the full extension, it’s just not possible.’’
Vucevic, a teammate of Fournier’s the past six seasons in Orlando and his closest friend on the team, has always admired the shooting guard’s toughness. Vucevic was there in December of 2016 when Fournier’s lip was cut open by a Tyler Hansbrough elbow, he got a dozen stitches and later returned to the game.
``He plays through lots of things like the bumps and bruises and things like that,’’ Vucevic said. ``He’s not going to sit out for those, and it takes quite a bit for him to have to miss games. The elbow thing is pretty significant. He usually tries to deal with things and play through them unless he can’t, so we know that if he could, he’d definitely be out there tonight. He has to take care of his body and hopefully it won’t be too long before he’s back.’’
Added Clifford: ``If you watched him on the film he was (flexing his hand) the whole game. He’s a tough guy and he played through a bunch of games with his back (injured) and people don’t realize it. He plays when he’s hurt and it is impressive.’’
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