Magic Lose Heartbreaker to Spurs

by John Denton

SAN ANTONIO – In the midst of their best streak of the season while winning three straight and five of the last six games prior to Saturday, the Orlando Magic finally ran into an opponent that they were no match for on.

The San Antonio Spurs? Nahhhh, on this night an NBA schedule full of inequities in terms of rest advantages and disadvantages and an untimely stroke of bad layup luck felled a weary Orlando team forced to play from behind most of the night. The Magic twice dug their way out of big holes to put themselves in position for an unlikely victory, but they ultimately couldn’t finish over the final two minutes to keep their winning streak going.

An Orlando team playing on the second night of a back-to-back set of games fell behind early in each half before storming back to take its first lead 39 minutes into the game. However, the Magic had major troubles finishing late, saw a four-point lead in the final two minutes dissolve and lost 114-113 in heartbreaking fashion to the Spurs when Evan Fournier’s layup attempt with 2.2 seconds to play rimmed out.

``It’s a layup, man; it’s a damn layup,’’ a frustrated Fournier said afterward. ``There is no excuse.’’

Orlando (27-33) looked like it might pull out a victory when Michael Carter-Williams and James Ennis III combined to force a turnover in the closing seconds. Ennis III fed the ball to streaking Fournier, who split the defense of Patty Mills and Rudy Gay and got all the way to the rim. However, Fournier’s layup kissed too hard off the backboard and the ball snuck over the front rim where it was rebounded by the Spurs. Upon missing the shot, Fournier tore off his jersey near the tunnel as he exited the playing floor.

``We were trying to get a good trap and not foul and get a protection so we could get a shot and that’s what we did,’’ fumed Fournier, who was otherwise magnificent with his 23 points and five 3-pointers in the game. ``We got the ball and I just missed the layup. It’s a layup and there’s not much else to say.’’

The Magic led 111-107 with two minutes to play, but it missed its next two shots and could never get a handle on slowing down the Spurs (25-33). Bryn Forbes tied the game at 111 with 1:27 to play on a jumper and then gave San Antonio a 114-111 led with a clutch 3-pointer from the right wing.

Markelle Fultz got Orlando back to within 114-113 with a layup with 40 seconds to play. However, the Magic lost when Fournier’s layup rolled off the rim.

``The biggest part of this was the beginning of the game,’’ Magic coach Steve Clifford said, referring to the 36-20 hole that the Magic fell into just minutes after tipoff. ``People say that the NBA is a fourth-quarter league, but it’s anything but. Playing from behind on the road is difficult, especially in an arena like this. They were very ready and shot the ball well. After the first quarter we played well, but it’s hard to come all the way back from a deficit like that.’’

Orlando lost for a fifth time this season when it was playing on the second night of a back-to-back and facing a foe that had been off at least two nights to rest up. San Antonio had been off since Wednesday, while the Magic didn’t arrive at their downtown hotel until after 1:30 a.m. early Saturday morning.

The Magic, who opened the week with wins over Brooklyn, Atlanta and Minnesota, dropped to 1-9 on the second night of back-to-backs. Strangely, the Magic are also now 0-9 this season in Saturday games.

Terrence Ross, one of the heroes of Friday’s home win against Minnesota, had 21 points and four 3-pointers. Ross, who had 19 fourth-quarter points on Friday, had nine points and three 3-pointers in the final period on Saturday to put the Magic in position to potentially win.

``That’s how you have to win; you want to win, you have to make those plays and you have to fight,’’ Ross said of Orlando’s fourth-quarter rally. ``We’ve got to find a way. With this last stretch of the season, it’s just about finding a way.’’

Nikola Vucevic added 16 points, while Fultz chipped in 11. One night after the first triple-double of his career, Aaron Gordon finished with seven points, six rebounds and six assists.

``Man, that was tough, and we really let that one get away from us,’’ said Gordon, who came into Saturday having averaged 19.2 points, 9.6 rebounds, 6.1 assists, 1.1 blocks and 1.1 steals over his previous 10 games for the finest stretch of his six-season NBA career. ``Like I’ve been saying, I hate that we lost because we feel like we can play with anybody. I thought we let go of it and personally I wasn’t ready in the first quarter. I feel like a lot of this was on me and I didn’t play nearly at the level that I’ve been playing at. We had opportunities to win. A 3-1 week is not bad, but we had an opportunity to go 4-0.’’

Trey Lyles, Gordon’s matchup for the night, scored 20 for San Antonio despite entering the game averaging 5.5 points a game. Rudy Gay, who had failed to score more than six points in February prior to Saturday, finished with 19 points on four-of-six accuracy from 3-point range. He entered the night shooting a dismal 30.8 percent from 3-point range.

``Yeah, this one is a tough one because we had a four-point lead with two minutes left,’’ Vucevic said. ``It’s tough to lose a close game like that, but I feel like the reason we lost is our poor start that let them take a big lead early on. They were getting whatever they wanted, and we had to fight our way back. After that, we played well, but you have to expend so much energy when you dig yourself a hole like that.

``But it is what it is,’’ Vucevic added. ``You win some games like that and you lose some of them. We’re still 3-1 this week and we were close to 4-0, but this is part of it.’’

Orlando was playing less than 24 hours after beating the Minnesota Timberwolves 136-125 at the Amway Center on Friday – a game in which Gordon compiled the first triple-double of his career (17 points, 12 assists and 11 rebounds) and Ross scored a season-best 33 points.

San Antonio came into the game without star center/forward LaMarcus Aldridge (shoulder pain) and it lost Saturday’s starter, Jakob Poeltl, in the opening minutes after he banged knees with a defender. Two-way player Drew Eubanks filled in at center when the Spurs weren’t in small-ball sets without a center.

The two teams were meeting for the first time since Nov. 15 when the Magic wiped out a 16-point deficit and beat the Spurs 111-109 at the Amway Center. On Saturday, the Magic came into San Antonio – a place where it had won just six times in the first 30 years of the franchise – looking to sweep the Spurs for the first time since the 2008-09 season.

Down eight at the half, the Magic saw that deficit swell to as much as 15 early in the third period. But as they did in the first half, the Magic clawed back into the game behind the solid shooting of Fournier to get within 85-81 by the start of the fourth.

Fournier scored 10 points in the third period, while Gordon had seven in the period. After taking only two step-back threes in the opening half, Orlando began the third period by getting the ball to Gordon in the post. Gordon’s quarter could have been even bigger had he not missed three free throws in the 12-minute stretch just after halftime.

``The starters have to be better and the bench played great tonight,’’ Fournier said. ``The start of the first quarter and the start of the third quarter were awful. They scored 38 points in that first quarter and with the starters, we have to be better.’’

Orlando trailed 61-53 at the half and, quite frankly, it was fortunate to be that close considering how the game started. The Spurs made 14 of their first 19 shots and seven of the first nine 3-point shots to blow out to a 36-20 lead. Trey Lyles, who came into the game averaging 5.5 points a night, had 12 points in the first quarter, while Rudy Gay – who had been a 30.8 percent 3-point shooter up until Saturday, drilled all six of his shots and four 3-pointers in the opening half for 16 points.

Orlando stormed back to within 45-40, but it yielded another 16-3 run to the Spurs to fall behind once again by double digits.

Facing a bigger defender in Lyles, Gordon didn’t post up much in the early going and, for whatever reason, he wasn’t very aggressive in the opening 24 minutes. He took just two shots in the first half – both of them ill-advised, step-back 3-point shots – and went scoreless in nearly 19 minutes of court time in the opening half. He did have four assists and a rebound, but it was a far cry from the start he got off to on Friday while compiling his first-ever triple-double.

Said Gordon: ``It’s just about getting to the rack out of transition and getting those energy and effort points,’’ Gordon said of what he failed to provide early in the game. ``Then, after that I can rely on my jumper more as the game goes on.

``We’ve just got to do a better job of getting something going earlier,’’ Gordon added. ``So, this is on (the starting five).’’

Fournier (10 first-half points), Vucevic (10 first-half points) and Ross (nine first-half points) kept Orlando within striking distance as the Magic’s defense struggled to get stops.

``It was just us not being aggressive enough, not getting into the ball enough,’’ Fournier said. ``Their ball movement creates long close outs and we didn’t do the job of getting into their chests.’’

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.

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