Defying the Odds: Close Look at the Magic's Improbable Comeback Victory

Dan Savage
Director of Digital News

ORLANDO – In the autopsy of a heart-stopping rally that ultimately breathed life into the Orlando Magic on Wednesday night, it all started with a faint pulse, created a belief that coursed throughout the body of the team and was capped by a couple of thuds that cold-cocked the stunned Philadelphia 76ers.

Seemingly lifeless and down 16 points, the Magic pulled off a stirring 21-0 rally in Wednesday’s fourth quarter to flip the script on the Sixers and newly acquired forward Jimmy Butler. Orlando’s jaw-dropping 21-0 burst – the second-longest such uninterrupted run in the NBA this season – put itself in position for a 111-106 victory that delighted an Amway Center crowd.

``I think they badly want to win and that’s the simplest (formula) to winning in the NBA,’’ raved Magic coach Steve Clifford.

In pulling off the third-largest fourth-quarter comeback in the 30-year history of the franchise, Orlando needed big-play contributions from several players on the roster and got them. According to the website Inpredictible.com, the Magic had just a 1.4 percent win probability when they trailed 92-76 with 10:51 to play. However, by the time their stunning 21-0 run was complete and it was improbably up 97-92, Orlando’s win probability had soared to 64.2 percent.

``We’ve got a lot of firepower, we’ve got a lot of guys who can play and a lot of guys who care about winning on this team,’’ said Magic forward Aaron Gordon, who had one of the most efficient games of his career with 17 points, six rebounds, six assists, two blocks and just one turnover in nearly 32 minutes.

Even after that surprising rally early in the fourth quarter that allowed them to grab the lead, the Magic fell back into a 104-100 hole with 3:33 to play. Again, their win probability sagged (back down to 16.1 percent) and again they remained strong. Orlando’s scrappy defense didn’t allow a field goal the rest of the way and it snagged the victory when Terrence Ross buried a tiebreaking 3-pointer with 8.7 seconds to play.

``We’re resilient and we keep fighting,’’ said Ross, Orlando’s best player off the bench all season and someone who has made 12 of his last 18 3-point shots in the last three games. ``We always want to make a push. You can’t be too high when you’re up or too low when you’re down, so you just have to keep playing no matter what.’’

Maybe the Magic – who are off until Saturday when they host LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers thrived late – thrived because they had recently been in a similarly dire situation and came out on top.

On Nov. 5, with the Magic playing on the second night of a back-to-back, they trailed Cleveland by five points with 30 seconds to play, but remarkably found a way to win 102-100. In that five-point hole with 30 seconds to play that night, Inpredictable.com had Orlando’s win probability at 1.4 percent that night as well. Following a series of big plays, capped by Evan Fournier’s game-winning, buzzer-beating shot, the Magic escaped with another improbable victory. It was the franchise’s first rally from down five in the final seconds in nearly 10 years.

For those who missed it, here is a blow-by-blow look at the big plays that made the Magic’s 21-0 burst on Wednesday night possible. As if that wasn’t enough, the Magic pulled off another rally late to allow them to overtake the star-studded Sixers of Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Butler and escape with a victory. Without further ado, here’s a closer look at the fantastic fourth:

10:51 remaining – Sixers 92, Magic 76: Vucevic drives left from the 3-point line, spins back to his right to create space, but misses a hook shot from 11 feet. With the rebound seemingly headed straight toward Embiid, Isaac leaps high in the air and tips the ball off the glass. After collecting the board, Isaac converts a difficult lefty layup between two Philadelphia defenders. (MAGIC RUN: 2-0, WIN PROBABILITY: 1.7 PERCENT)

10:12 remaining – Sixers 92, Magic 78: Following an illegal screen by Philadelphia’s J.J. Redick, Vucevic fakes a couple of dribble-hand-off plays and makes something out of a disjointed possession by burying a 23-foot jumper after Embiid sags off him. (MAGIC RUN: 4-0, WIN PROBABILITY: 2.9 PERCENT)

9:37 remaining – Sixers 92, Magic 80: Philadelphia’s Wilson Chandler misses a 3-pointer that was contested by Isaac and Ross pushes the ball up the floor on a secondary fast break. Orlando swings the ball from Ross to Vucevic to reserve point guard Jerian Grant, who drills an uncontested 3-pointer from the left wing that sends Philadelphia into a time out despite its 92-83 lead. (MAGIC RUN: 7-0, WIN PROBABILITY: 6.3 PERCENT)

9:09 remaining – Sixers 92, Magic 83: The Sixers draw up an isolation play for Embiid at the free throw line, but Vucevic is sound defensively. When the Magic don’t have to double team, Embiid settles for an 18-footer that rims out. From there, Vucevic draws the attention of the defense and finds Isaac, whose dunk is stopped by a hard foul from Embiid. Isaac, who is playing his first game in 10 days, confidently sinks two free throws. Orlando within 92-85. (MAGIC RUN: 9-0, WIN PROBABILITY: 9.8 PERCENT)

8:40 remaining – Sixers 92, Magic 85: Grant, the nephew of Magic legend Horace Grant, gets a hand on Markelle Fultz’s pass and tips the ball over to Ross. From there, Jonathon Simmons wisely waves Wes Iwundu to the other corner so that Embiid will clear defensively and he can post up Fultz. Simmons backs the second-year Philly guard down and all he can do to stop the move is to foul Simmons. His two free throws draw the Magic within five of the lead. Orlando within 92-87. (MAGIC RUN: 11-0, WIN PROBABILITY: 14.9 PERCENT)

8:16 remaining – Sixers 92, Magic 87: Butler, who was brought in to give Philadelphia a tough and proven player who can score late in games out of pick-and-roll and isolation plays, got open for a 17-footer, but his first shot of the fourth quarter rims out. Seconds later, Embiid sinks into the lane to cover a cutting Ross and Vucevic takes advantage of the confusion between Simmons and Embiid and makes a straight-on 3-pointer. Orlando is within one basket of the lead. (MAGIC RUN: 14-0, WIN PROBABILITY: 25.4 PERCENT)

7:54 remaining – Sixers 92, Magic 90: What happened next is the kind of moment that defines a game – and, quite possibly, even alters the course of a season – thanks to the long-armed defense of Isaac. Embiid finds himself wide open on the left wing after Vucevic sags into the lane to cut off penetration by Simmons. Rather than shoot the 3-pointer, he fakes, and in the process, Vucevic trips on the Philly center’s foot and falls to the floor. Noticing his man down, Embiid heads straight toward the rim seemingly intent on taking out his frustrations on the rim. Standing on the proverbial tracks as the train engine heads his way, Isaac jumps and meets Embiid at his highest point. Despite giving away at least 30 pounds in size and two inches in height, Isaac basically palms the dunk attempt with his left hand, disrupting Embiid and causing the ball to hit the front rim. ``It felt fantastic,’’ said Isaac, who had battled his way back from an ankle injury to return on Wednesday. ``I came out of the game saying under my breath, `Lord, You’re faithful.’ He really is, and I feel so good being out there. After missing 10 days, I’m back and I feel great.’’ Said Gordon of Isaac’s block: ``That was pretty much the play of the game. … Just the challenge alone, it takes a lot of courage to go up there and block somebody (like Embiid) coming down the lane like that. So, that was a big-time play for us.’’ This time, Embiid falls flat of his back and Isaac scoops up the loose ball to start another Orlando fast break. He gets it ahead to Simmons, who finds Ross on the right wing for a 3-pointer that gives the Magic a 93-92 lead – their first advantage since it was 60-59 early in the third quarter. (MAGIC RUN: 17-0, WIN PROBABILITY: 39.9 PERCENT)

7:30 remaining – Magic 93, Sixers 92: Simmons thwarts a dribble-hand-off play between Embiid and Butler and the Sixers have to settle for a 13-foot pull-up shot from their center when Vucevic refuses to give up penetration. That shot, just like the previous four, misses, to extend Philadelphia offensive misery in the period. Sensing the moment and the momentum, Ross goes for the kill by dribbling off a Vucevic screen and drilling a 23-footer over Chandler’s outstretched arm. Originally called a 3-point shot, replay reviews show that Ross’ right foot was on the 3-point arc and the shot is changed to a two-point field goal. The roaring Amway Center crowd doesn’t seem to mind as Orlando pulls ahead, 95-92. (MAGIC RUN: 19-0, WIN PROBABILITY: 51.8 PERCENT)

6:54 remaining – Magic 95, Sixers 92: Philadelphia requests another time out, but little changes as Mike Muscala’s lob to Butler is intercepted by Gordon. Seconds later, Simmons runs a side-out-of-bounds play to perfection, in-bounding the ball to Gordon, taking a hand-off from the forward and confidently stroking in a jump shot from the left elbow of the lane. Incredibly, the Magic now lead, 97-92. (MAGIC RUN: 21-0, WIN PROBABILITY: 64.2 PERCENT)

A high-degree-of-difficulty, tear-drop floater by Philadelphia’s Chandler finally ends the Magic run at 21-0. That burst is second only to Oklahoma City’s 22-0 run against Phoenix for the longest uninterrupted streak in the NBA this season.

During that tide-turning, about-face, the Magic went seven of nine from the floor with four 3-pointers, four assists and four free throws. Philadelphia, meanwhile, saw its eight offensive possessions end in five misses and three turnovers.

``We kept fighting the whole game. I know we got down in the fourth, but little by little we were able to get it back tied and win it,’’ said Vucevic, who made 10 of 19 shots, three of six 3-pointers and seven of eight free throws. ``I thought we played well for 48 minutes.’’

Because the Magic’s run came in such rapid-fire succession, Philadelphia was left with plenty of time with which to steady itself and potentially win the game. The Sixers not only tied the score at 97 on a Wilson 3-pointer with 6:30 to play, but they would eventually surge ahead by as much as four points (104-100). Back to the odds, when the Magic trailed by four with 3:33 to play, their win probability had dipped to just 16.1 percent.

Little did Philadelphia know it at the time, but Muscala’s 3-pointer with 3:33 to play would be its final field goal of the night against Orlando’s scrappy defense.

The Magic got the game tied at 104 and tied again at 106 before Ross hit the go-ahead dagger with 8.7 seconds remaining. It was the perfect capper on a night that Magic fans won’t soon forget and one that could propel the team going forward.

``The way we’re playing, we’re playing the right way and we’re playing together,’’ Ross said of a Magic team that has won five of seven since starting the season 2-6. ``We have a lot of momentum going and we’re just trying to build off that by creating the right habits so that we can sustain this for as long as possible.’’

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.