Magic’s Late Surge Not Enough in Loss to Knicks

by Josh Cohen

The Lead

Rarely these days in an NBA game do you see both teams score under 95 points. But, that’s exactly what transpired at Madison Square Garden during the Orlando Magic and New York Knicks’ MLK Day matinee. Some of that was excellent defense by both squads and some of it was poor shooting. Julius Randle broke a tie with just under a minute remaining with a driving layup and RJ Barrett scored at the rim following a steal on the next possession, as the Knicks held off the Magic, 91-84.

Top Performer

One of the main reasons the Magic chose Aaron Gordon fourth overall in the 2014 NBA Draft was because of his defensive potential. The word on him coming out of the University of Arizona was that he had the tools to transform into an NBA Defensive Player of the Year candidate. Although he has yet to make an All-Defensive team thus far in this career, the 6-foot-9, 220-pounder has been a stellar defender in his six-plus years with Orlando, which was once again highlighted during Monday’s loss, as he helped limit Randle, a fellow 2014 draft selection, to a woeful 5-for-19 shooting performance. Gordon, still just 25 years old, filled up the stat sheet, too, finishing one assist shy of a triple-double with 18 points, a career-best 17 rebounds and nine assists.

Key Stat

Normally very disciplined on defense, the Magic fouled way too much, especially in critical moments of the game. Orlando committed 24 fouls, a season high, and New York took 34 free throws, 15 in the final frame. The Magic, meanwhile, only took 16 foul shots throughout the afternoon. One of those costly fouls came right after Orlando took a one-point lead with a minute and change left. Khem Birch was whistled for the foul, which put Randle on the stripe, where he knocked down one of two.

Key Stretch

The Magic erased a 12-point deficit at the start of the fourth quarter behind hot shooting from Terrence Ross, who scored 16 of his 19 points in the last period. The 6-foot-6 veteran drilled a tying triple with 3:39 left in the game and then gave the Magic a temporary lead when he flung in a long-distance heave just before the shot clock expired following a jump-ball victory by Birch. The Knicks closed the game on an 11-3 run, however.

Rookie Watch

Playing in his first game at MSG, where his dad, Greg Anthony, played his home games for the first four seasons of his NBA career, Cole Anthony scored six points and grabbed five rebounds. He struggled with his shooting, going 2-of-12 from the floor with both of his makes coming from 3-point land. Only once this season has he shot 50 percent or better from the field. Becoming a more efficient scorer is something he is working at. It will take time, which he knows, especially considering he didn’t have a summer league or full training camp prior to the start of the season to properly gear up. But, being thrusted into a starting role following the injury to Markelle Fultz is giving him the experience he needs to develop his skills and grow his confidence.

Player Spotlight

The one Magic player who has been on his A-game pretty much every night so far this season has been Nikola Vucevic, who posted 24 points, 14 rebounds and two blocks during Monday’s loss. Assuming he continues playing at this level, it’s very likely Orlando’s starting center will be named an All-Star for the second time in his career. The only players in franchise history with multiple All-Star selections on their resume while a member of the Magic are Shaquille O’Neal, Penny Hardaway, Tracy McGrady, Grant Hill and Dwight Howard.

Quote of the Night

“We lost the game because we fouled. Three huge fouls, undisciplined fouls in the last three-and-a-half minutes of the game. That’s the story of the game and that’s without watching the film…The difference in the game was the free throw shooting.” – Magic Head Coach Steve Clifford

Up Next

The Magic’s road trip continues on Wednesday night in Minnesota where Orlando will take on the Timberwolves, who will be led by D’Angelo Russell and 2020 No. 1 overall draft pick Anthony Edwards. Like the Magic, the Wolves have really struggled with their 3-point shooting this season, ranking 28th in the league in that department coming into Monday’s action. Their defense has also been poor, giving up 118.7 points per game, fourth most in the NBA. Tip-off for Wednesday’s game is 8 p.m. ET.

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