Gordon, Payton Show Confidence and Poise in Late Stages of OT Win

Josh Cohen
Digital News Manager

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Orlando Magic. All opinions expressed by John Denton are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Orlando Magic or their Basketball Operations staff, partners or sponsors.

By John DentonNov. 7, 2014

ORLANDO – At 19 and 20 years old respectively, Orlando Magic rookies Aaron Gordon and Elfrid Payton are two of the youngest and most inexperienced players in the NBA. But the 16,379 fans inside the Amway Center never would have been able to tell it on Friday considering the way the two youngsters delivered time and again in the tense moments of regulation and overtime.

And just for good measure both Magic rookies grossly outplayed the top overall pick from last June’s NBA Draft, Andrew Wiggins, in Orlando’s most thrilling victory thus far in the season.

Gordon, the No. 4 pick in last June’s draft, had a spectacular three-point play off a dunk and a game-sealing 3-point shot in the extra period and Payton added 15 points as Orlando surged past the Minnesota Timberwolves 112-103 in overtime at the noisy Amway Center.

Gordon, who had played only sparingly in two games earlier in the week, scored a career best 17 points and grabbed six rebounds. Most importantly, Gordon – the NBA’s youngest player this season – didn’t get rattled with the game on the line and he proved to be a tide-turning spark for the Magic (2-4).

``My energy is definitely contagious. It only takes one person and if he is being active you don’t want to let that person down. It makes everybody else pick up their energy and that’s what I tried to do,’’ said Gordon, who made six of nine shots and both of his 3-pointers and blocked two shots. ``The game of basketball is less fun to me if I’m not playing all-out all of the time. It’s just what I do.’’

Gordon and Payton checked out of the game with 35.9 seconds remaining in OT and they were given a rousing ovation. Payton, the No. 10 pick from last June’s draft whom the Magic acquired in a trade with the Philadelphia 76ers, had 13 of his 15 points after halftime and he twice hit shots in the overtime period.

``I’m just trying to come out with energy and help the team some kind of way,’’ said Payton, who added five rebounds, four assists, a steal and a blocked shot. ``Whether it be scoring, defense, assisting or rebounding – I’m just trying to bring something to the team to try and impact the game.’’

Evan Fournier, another player acquired last June on a draft-day transaction, scored 20 points and hit two 3-pointers for the Magic (2-4). An Orlando squad that started the season with four straight losses won a second consecutive game on the heels of Tobias Harris’ game-winning shot in Philadelphia on Wednesday night.

Gordon came off the bench throughout the game, but he played well in the fourth quarter (six points and three rebounds) and got the start to open overtime. And he delivered in a big way in the extra period. He had a thunderous dunk as he was hacked by Kevin Martin to give Orlando a three-point lead that it would not surrender the rest of the way. And Gordon hit a dagger of a 3-pointer with 1:35 left in OT to seal the victory.

Magic coach Jacque Vaughn had Channing Frye at the scorer’s table at one point late in the fourth quarter, but he eventually pulled the veteran forward back to the bench so that Gordon could finish out the game.

``I just thought his energy was contagious,’’ Vaughn said. ``His defense and his ability to make the right play and stay in the moment – whether it was on a breakaway or at the end of a shot clock – he just did a great job of being ready.’’

For much of Friday night’s game at the Amway Center, the numbers simply didn’t compute for the Magic. At one point in the second half, they were shooting a robust 54 percent, owned a 12-rebound edge on the glass and still they were losing. And the Magic had no one to blame but themselves for their puzzling predicament because of their self-inflicted errors. They finished with 21 turnovers, but they didn’t give the ball away once in the overtime period.

Harris had 17 points and a season-best 16 rebounds for the Magic. Nikola Vucevic, who had 14 points and nine rebounds, hit two clutch free throws with 11.9 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter to tie the game at 94. Vucevic got some friendly bounces from the home rims on both free throws as the first rattled in and the second caromed in despite being shot short. And Maurice Harkless combined with Devyn Marble – another rookie from Gordon and Payton’s draft class – to set a hard trap and force a turnover in the closing seconds of regulation.

``The fight and the character shown were positives and everybody on our team was needed,’’ Harris said. ``Mo Harkless came off the bench and gave us a spur, Aaron came off the bench and gave us a great spur. … We brought the intensity on the defensive end in overtime and we got stops. When you stop a team in overtime it discourages the other team. We were mentally tough tonight to get through that barrier and to get another victory.’’

Wiggins, who was traded from Cleveland to Minnesota in July, scored just six points in 27 minutes. Said Wiggins: ``The home crowd got into it. It was a tough loss. We have a game (Saturday in Miami) so we have to look forward.’’
Orlando’s extremely difficult early-season schedule puts the Magic back on the road again following Friday’s home game. The Magic, who are in a stretch of playing 15 of 20 away games, hit the road again on Saturday and play in Brooklyn (Sunday), Toronto (Tuesday) and New York (Wednesday) this week.

Said Fournier: ``Obviously this win gives us more confidence. It’s a great thing that we won because we have a lot of games coming up on the road and it will be very hard. So hopefully we can continue to build off this.’’

The Magic were once again without standout guard Victor Oladipo and power forward Kyle O’Quinn on Friday night. Oladipo, who has yet to play this season, had surgery two weeks ago to repair a fracture below his right eye and there is no firm timetable on his return because of the lingering swelling in his face. O’Quinn sprained his left ankle in the opener and has missed the past five games. He worked out Thursday and Friday and could possibly play Sunday against the Nets near his hometown of Queens, New York.

Minnesota suffered a big blow in the second quarter when standout point guard Ricky Rubio severely sprained his left ankle a drive to the hoop. Rubio, who entered the game second in the NBA in assists at 11 a game, had four points and six assists in 13 minutes and did not return following the injury.

The Magic, which trailed 52-47 at the half, surged into the lead twice in the third quarter thanks to some ultra aggressive play from Payton, who had a driving dunk just after halftime and had nine points in the period. But Orlando still trailed 77-74 at the start of the fourth quarter because of its 19 turnovers – miscues that led to 17 points for the T-Wolves.

The youthful enthusiasm and relentless energy of Gordon and Payton eventually helped the Magic overcome their turnover troubles, get the game to overtime and win in thrilling fashion in the extra period. Both Gordon and Payton stressed after the game that their ages shouldn’t be an excuse and they expect greatness out of themselves even as rookies.

``I don’t think about (being the youngest player in the NBA) too much because as much as it is a compliment, it’s also a crutch,’’ Gordon said. ``People saying, `Oh, he’s only 19, don’t worry about it.’ I don’t like to hear that stuff. I don’t care about that and I might as well just play basketball like I know how to play.’’

Added Payton: ``We’re all on the same level now and (age) doesn’t matter. The other team doesn’t care and the coaches don’t care (about age). So it makes no sense for us to use that (as an excuse). … I don’t feel like a rookie and I think that helps me. They’re counting on me to make plays and I have to be ready.’’