ORLANDO - Counting Sunday’s game, Aaron Gordon and Blake Griffin have played against one another five times throughout their careers.
Gordon has outscored Griffin in three of those contests and logged a better field goal percentage than the five-time NBA All-Star in four of them.
That includes Sunday’s head-to-head showdown, which ended in thrilling fashion when Evan Fournier drilled a game-winning runner at the buzzer.
Griffin had an off night, finishing with 15 points – 10 points fewer than his season average. He also took only 10 shots, making four of them.
Gordon, meanwhile, was spectacular, posting 22 points, 10 rebounds and four assists. Yet, it was his smothering defense, particularly on the Pistons’ do-everything forward, that made the biggest difference in Sunday’s outcome.
As he’s done against several of the league’s elite players this season – including LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant and Ben Simmons – the Magic’s versatile forward slowed Griffin with his lateral quickness, low-post resistance and superb timing.
To jumpstart one of Orlando’s best sequences of the season, Gordon caused Griffin to airball a turnaround jumper in the paint with about seven minutes left in the third quarter. Nikola Vucevic, subsequently, blocked back-to-back shot attempts from Bruce Brown. Then, A.G. grabbed the ball, raced the other way and whipped a pass over to a cutting Vucevic, who found D.J. Augustin for a wide-open 3-pointer.
As Vucevic continues to make his case that he belongs in this year’s All-Star Game and while Terrence Ross remains a legitimate Sixth Man of the Year candidate, Gordon has warranted DPOY consideration.
Before the season started, the 23-year-old told the media that making the NBA All-Defensive First Team was a goal of his. Steve Clifford, from the moment he was named Magic head coach last spring, has said numerous times that Gordon has all the tools necessary to attain that goal.
Although there are several other high-ranking defenders across the league – such as Paul George, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Leonard and Myles Turner – the San Jose native continues to show the rest of the league that his prowess on that side of the floor shouldn’t be overlooked.
He’s not the Magic’s only terrific defender, though. Fournier, who has done an excellent job all season defending quicker guards, limited Reggie Jackson on Sunday. Vucevic’s pick-and-roll defense, as usual, was solid and Jonathan Isaac is one of the league’s best young defenders.