Ever since Steve Clifford became the head coach, the Orlando Magic have been one of the NBA’s most resilient teams. Several times in each of the last two seasons they overcame double-digit deficits, winning a few of those games in thrilling fashion. It might be a brand new season, but it appears that characteristic hasn’t gone away. Down 17 going into the fourth quarter, the Magic stayed composed and pulled out a 120-113 victory over the Washington Wizards on Sunday night. Orlando is now 3-0. The last time they were perfect through three games was in 2009.
Markelle Fultz connected on a driving layup with 55 seconds left that cut Washington’s lead to one and Nikola Vucevic, who a couple minutes earlier drilled a big 3-pointer, spun on Thomas Bryant in the post and banked home a go-ahead baby hook with 25.1 seconds remaining. Fultz, who scored a career-high 26 points, made four shots in the final five minutes.
Fultz is an obvious one, as his confidence is sky high right now. It was the second unit, though, that brought the necessary energy to keep the Magic in the game. Terrence Ross scored 26 points, drilling four 3-pointers and all eight of his free throws. Michael Carter-Williams made all three of his shots and was key to limiting Bradley Beal to a poor shooting performance (10-of-29 from field, 0-of-7 from 3-point range). Playing in his first action of the regular season, Gary Clark grabbed a critical offensive rebound midway through the fourth before darting a kickout pass out to Evan Fournier, who knocked down the triple. Orlando’s reserves outscored Washington’s 50-31.
The Magic started the fourth quarter on a 14-2 run. During that stretch, Cole Anthony buried four free throws, Carter-Williams sank all three of his shots, and Ross and Khem Birch each made one. By the time an Orlando starter reentered, the Wizards’ lead had been trimmed to three.
The Magic went 37-of-38 from the free throw line. It was only the 20th time in franchise history Orlando made at least 37 foul shots. They are now 14-6 in those games. The 97.4 percent shot by the Magic marks their highest free throw percentage in a game with 37-plus free throws made. The last time the Magic took at least 38 shots from the stripe was on Nov. 10, 2017 when they attempted 43 of them against the Phoenix Suns. Meanwhile, this was Orlando's third largest fourth-quarter comeback win since the 1996-97 season, per Sportradar. The Magic overcame a 20-point deficit in the final frame against Cleveland on Nov. 19, 1997 and an 18-point deficit against Charlotte on Nov. 21, 2014.
Clifford has said before that the 6-foot-6, 190-pound Carter-Williams is one of the best perimeter defenders he’s ever coached. In fact, Clifford, who also coached MCW for a year with the Hornets, once graded his on-the-ball and pick-and-roll defense an “8 ½ or 9.” In his 23 minutes on the floor, Carter-Williams made things awfully difficult on the Wizards, especially Beal, who struggled to get into a rhythm all night despite scoring a game-high 29 points. MCW’s length certainly contributed to that when he was matched up with the two-time NBA All-Star. Beal didn’t make a single 3-pointer. That happened only four times last season.
Conventional wisdom says the absence of a future Hall of Famer from the other team’s lineup would make it easier to roll to a win. That isn’t always the case though, in the NBA or any other major pro sports league. Starting in place of a resting Russell Westbrook, Raul Neto stepped up and had himself a huge night. He tied his career high with 22 points and also had four rebounds, five assists and three steals.
Quote of the Night
“I think we got a chance to be a really good second unit. We definitely made some big plays. I still think we have a long way to go. But, we’ve been able to get wins and come out on top. But, I really think we have a long way to go offensively and defensively and we just got to keep getting better each day. But our potential to be a really solid second unit is really high. We got great players. We got great young guys and we work really hard.” – Carter-Williams
The Magic now fly to Oklahoma City, where they will take on the Thunder on Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET. They will have a chance to make franchise history. Never before have the Magic started a season undefeated through four games. It’s only the fourth time ever they have started 3-0. The other seasons they accomplished this were in 1991-92, 1993-94 and 2009-10.