ORLANDO – Evan Fournier, the tough-minded veteran the Orlando Magic most want having the ball with games on the line no matter how his night is going, came through in the clutch once again on Sunday with another game-winner.
Already the owner of a game-winning 3-point shot earlier in the season against Cleveland, Fournier ignored the outstretched arms of shot-blocker Andre Drummond and drilled a 12-foot floater at the buzzer to lift the Magic to a 109-107 defeat of the Detroit Pistons at the Amway Center.
``I really embrace those moments and I’m glad that Coach (Steve Clifford) drew up a play for me and the execution was great,’’ said Fournier, who flexed his muscles and yelled into the air prior to being mobbed by his teammates who streamed off the bench. ``I was actually thinking about shooting a jumper because rarely you can get to the (basket) late in games and referees don’t call fouls. I’d rather have a clean shot, but (Detroit guard Stanley Johnson) definitely opened up too much. I had a little bit of space on my right side and I decided to use my float game.’’
Fournier, who had 13 points, five rebounds and three assists, has been in that position many times before. And like in many of those situations, he came through again. Back on Nov. 5, Fournier took an inbounds pass at the top of the floor and buried a 23-footer just before the buzzer to help the Magic defeat the Cleveland Cavaliers 102-100. And in 2015-16, Fournier had three last-minute baskets – a 3-pointer against Minnesota with 3.1 seconds left; a go-ahead jumper versus Houston with 14.2 seconds remaining; and a game-tying layup against Dallas to force overtime – to either win games or tie them.
This time around, Clifford, drew up a play where Fournier dove down toward the basket and then came back off a screen to catch the ball on the left side of the floor. When Detroit’s Johnson over-pursued, Fournier took two dribbles to his right and let fly a 12-footer over Drummond.
``He wants the ball at the end, there’s no question about it,’’ Clifford said. ``And he’s got courage. Make or miss, if he gets a shot like that, you’re going to feel comfortable and there’s a good chance that he’s going to make it.’’
Orlando (16-19) saw Detroit (16-18) claw within 105-104 with 8.9 seconds remaining when point guard Reggie Jackson converted a difficult layup. From there, Aaron Gordon made a perfect read on an in-bounds play, hitting a streaking Terrence Ross for a dunk that pushed Orlando’s lead back to 107-104 with 5.4 seconds left. However, the Pistons got the game tied with 2.5 seconds to play when Orlando’s Jerian Grant – who was back in the rotation because of ankle injuries to D.J. Augustin and Jonathon Simmons – fouled Reggie Bullock, who calmly buried three free throws to knot the score at 107.
That just set the stage for more heroics from Fournier. As it turns out, he went to the mid-range floater – a shot that he’s worked on again and again in practice.
``It’s something that I work on pretty much every day, to be honest,’’ Fournier said. ``I’ve been working on it for a long, long time now. This one was definitely hard, but I have confidence in that shot. Actually, the first shot of the game was similar, but I was going to my left shot. But it’s something I work on, so I was definitely comfortable.’’
Added Clifford: ``(Fournier) was the first option and he showed great poise because in two seconds he took two dribbles, which I’d say was about how many you can take,’’ Clifford said. ``That’s not an easy shot now. … As good as these guys are, there’s not many who make those.’’
Augustin, one of Orlando’s most consistently efficient and productive players all season, drilled back-to-back 3-pointers in a tied game midway through the fourth quarter and scored 26 points. He played nearly flawless basketball over 37 minutes, hitting all 10 of his free throws, drilling four 3-pointers and handed out eight assists.
The only downside of the night for Augustin was when he rolled his right ankle with 1:41 to play. That injury could put his playing status for Monday in Charlotte in doubt, but Fournier’s game-winner briefly eased the pain.
``Evan has always been like that – no matter how the game is going, whether he’s making shots or missing shots, when the game is on the line, he’s willing to take those big shots,’’ Augustin said while icing his ankle. ``It’s great to have him on our team.’’
In addition to the late 3-pointers that finally gave Orlando some breathing room, Augustin had one of the most spectacular highlights of the afternoon with 3:34 to play and the Pistons on the ropes. Augustin faked a behind-the-back pass to freeze Detroit star Blake Griffin. Then, when Griffin realized that Augustin still had the ball, the heady point guard wrapped a pass around Griffin’s ribs to Nikola Vucevic for a layup that boosted Orlando’s lead to 104-95.
``Drummond had closed out on me and he thought I was going to shoot it, so I just drove past him,’’ Augustin recalled. ``I knew Blake was going to have to make a decision to either stay with me or go with Vooch, so I faked it to see if he would come with me. When he did, I knew Vooch was wide open.’’
A noisy crowd of 17,761 saw the Magic win at the Amway Center for a second straight time. The Magic shot 47.1 percent from the floor and held a 60-50 advantage in paint points. Magic big men Nikola Vucevic (22 points and 11 rebounds) and Aaron Gordon (22 points and 10 rebounds) played well throughout and bettered the contributions Detroit got from Andre Drummond (14 points and 15 rebounds) and Griffin (15 points and five assists).
The Magic suffered a setback in Sunday’s second quarter when Simmons suffered a sprained left ankle and did not return. Simmons was moved from shooting guard to back-up point guard on Friday and he had a second straight strong performance going when he accidentally stepped on a foe’s foot and twisted his left ankle. Simmons, who had six assists and four rebounds in Friday’s win, scored seven points in nine minutes before hobbling to the locker room.
Simmons, who missed time last week with a sprained right ankle, likely will miss a period of time. Also, with Augustin in pain after spraining his ankle Grant could quickly go from out of the rotation to starting in a matter of days. Troy Caupain, a two-way player with the Lakeland Magic, could also be vaulted into action. Augustin was a bit worried about his ankle following Sunday’s afternoon game.
``Right now, it’s sore and it’s pretty painful,’’ Augustin said. ``I’m icing it now and I’m going to get treatment when I get to the hotel in Charlotte. I’ll see how it feels (on Monday) and try to go (on Monday).
Orlando was in action for the first time since throttling the Toronto Raptors 116-87 on Friday. Meanwhile, the Pistons were playing just two nights after getting smashed 125-88 in Indiana.
As if a six-game, 11-night trip where the team will play in all four U.S. time zones wasn’t daunting enough, the Magic will start the journey with a difficult back-to-back set of games. Orlando was scheduled to leave after Sunday’s game and travel to Charlotte where they will face the Hornets on Monday at 6 p.m. Not only will it be Clifford’s first game back in Charlotte since he was fired by the Hornets last April, but it will be Orlando’s second chance this season to break a long losing streak to the Hornets.
The Magic have dropped 12 straight games to the Hornets, including a 120-88 rout in Orlando in the second game of the regular season. Orlando hasn’t beaten the Hornets since Dec. 16, 2015. Also, they have lost six in a row in Charlotte – a skid that dates back to Dec. 27, 2014.
``Every time we’ve played those guys, they’ve crushed us,’’ Fournier said. ``They’ve dominated us physically and mentally. So, it’s going to be hard (on Monday), especially on a back-to-back. But the main thing is keep playing the same way and be consistent. We’ve had really good stretches where we play with intensity and focused and stretches where we weren’t as much. This road trip is going to be hard, but we’ll be fine.’’
From Charlotte, the Magic will play in Chicago (Wednesday), Minnesota (Friday), Los Angeles (Clippers, Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET), Sacramento (Jan. 7) and Utah (Jan. 9). The Magic won’t be back at the Amway Center until Jan. 12 when they host the Boston Celtics.
Clearly in for a four-quarter fight after seeing Detroit claw back into the game in the second quarter, Orlando couldn’t get any more than six points ahead of the Pistons in the third period. And by the start of the fourth, the Magic clung to a slim 85-83 lead.
Orlando seemingly picked up where it left off with the hot shooting in Friday’s win with a torrid offensive performance in the first half and led 62-59 at intermission. The Magic made 54.8 percent of their shots and cut to the rim and penetrated well enough to build a 38-22 edge in paint points over the first 24 minutes.
The Magic used a 16-0 burst in the opening minutes and looked as if they were going to break the game open when pushing their lead to 37-23 early in the second quarter. However, Detroit rallied behind the shooting of Luke Kennard (13 first-half points) and six first-half 3-pointers. The Pistons had 38 points in the second quarter to surprisingly take the lead after almost being out of the game.
Gordon had a trio of jaw-dropping highlights in the first half en route to 15 points. He cut hard to the rim early in the game and as he took the pass from Fournier, Gordon pulled off a reverse dunk as he was fouled by Detroit’s Reggie Bullock. Seconds later, he soared high into the air for an alley-oop pass from Augustin (11 points in the first half) for another thunderous dunk. And in the second period, Gordon drove hard down the lane and flipped a no-look pass to Vucevic (14 points and eight rebounds in the first 24 minutes).
Simmons gave the Magic a 31-21 lead after one period when he drilled a buzzer-beating shot. However, injury befell him once again in the second period and he did not return.
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