By John Denton
March 22, 2017
ORLANDO – Without a doubt, the Orlando Magic’s showdown against the rival Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday was personal, and signs of that were evident with the intensity and precision that they played with for most of the night.
That’s why what happened in Wednesday’s fatal fourth quarter hurt the Magic so deeply.
Up almost all game and in position to potentially end a six-game skid against the Hornets – three of those defeats coming this season in downright embarrassing fashion – the Magic collapsed in the fourth quarter under an avalanche of big shots by Frank Kaminsky and Kemba Walker. Charlotte made four of its first six 3-point shots in the fourth and rallied to beat the Magic 109-102 at the Amway Center.
``It’s very painful and very disappointing. You never want to lose to a team four times in a season, you just don’t,’’ Magic coach Frank Vogel said. ``I do think we played well and this is the best game against these guys, but you’ve got to make plays down the stretch. Tip your hat to them because they made more plays down the stretch than we did.’’
Did they ever? Kaminsky exploited his matchup against Magic center Bismack Biyombo, scoring 13 of his 18 points and making three of his four 3-pointers in the fourth. Walker, long an irritant of the Magic because of his shot-making abilities and his blinding quickness, had 22 points and seven assists – eight of those points and three assists coming in the game-turning fourth.
Charlotte outscored the sputtering Magic 32-20 in the final 12 minutes. In that game-turning stretch, the Hornets made 11 of 20 shots and four of seven 3-pointers. Conversely, the Magic made just seven of 22 shots and turned the ball over three times in the fourth.
``(Going) 0-4 to that team is really painful,’’ said Magic guard Evan Fournier, who scored 15 points and made three 3-pointers in 30 minutes. ``We had control of the game for like 40 minutes. We never got over the hump and it feels like they stole the game.’’
Orlando led by six at the end of the first quarter, was up six at the half, had an advantage as large as 10 points early in the third and took a five-point edge in the fourth period. However, the Magic (26-46) were no match late for the surging Hornets (32-39).
Orlando missed out on a chance to match its longest winning streak of the season at three games, while Charlotte pushed its winning spree out to three.
Wednesday’s game was unlike any of the previous three meetings this season, but it still hurt the Magic greatly that they couldn’t close out the rival Hornets. Wednesday’s decisive fourth-quarter surge allowed Charlotte to sweep the season series for the first time in its history and it extended its winning streak overall to seven against Orlando.
``Super frustrating,’’ muttered Magic point guard Elfrid Payton, who had 15 points, five assists and five rebounds. ``I definitely feel like we could have won this game. We played well enough for the most part of the game.’’
Prior to Wednesday, Orlando was 19-9 in games in which it led after three periods. This time, however, the Hornets used a 13-7 burst to start the final period and overtake the Magic.
Kaminsky had two 3-pointers and a dunk in that stretch to dramatically flip the arc of the game. The 7-foot Kaminsky was perfect in the fourth, making all four of his shots, three threes and two free throws. The Hornets were a plus-10 on the scoreboard in his 11 minutes, 41 seconds on the floor in the fourth period.
``It’s a tough matchup, especially with the way that they play with the spread-out offense,’’ said Magic center Nikola Vucevic, who was solid throughout with 14 points, 12 rebounds, a career-best eight assists and three blocked shots. ``That’s the way the game is evolving with bigs shooting (3-pointers) more and more. That’s a matchup that you’re not used to and he got hot and made some big shots for them. It’s tough.’’
Said Kaminsky, who made six of 13 shots and four of seven threes: ``I just kept shooting the same shots I was getting the whole game and they went in. That was pretty much the difference in the game.’’
Terrence Ross, whom the Magic acquired in the Feb. 14 trade with Toronto, scored 19 points and made three 3-pointers. Second-year forward Mario Hezonja came into the night in a shooting funk – 14 of 48 overall and three of 21 from 3-point range in the previous seven games – but he didn’t hesitate with his shot in the game. He drilled a 3-pointer on his first attempt of the night and had eight points and five rebounds by halftime. He finished with the same eight points and seven rebounds, but made just three of 12 shots.
Marco Belinelli scored 20 points off the Charlotte bench by making five of nine shots, three of five 3-pointers and seven of eight free throws. He was twice fouled on 3-point attempts – a problem area for the Magic all season.
Orlando shot well enough to win (45.5 percent from the floor) and that was with a season-most 40 3-point attempts. The Magic made 14 threes – their third-highest total in a game this season. Jodie Meeks, who was playing his second game after missing nine weeks with ligament damage in his left thumb, made three 3-pointers and scored 10 points.
``That’s what their defense gives you. They’re 30th in the league – last in the league – in the amount of threes they give up … and they make you beat them over the top,’’ Vogel said of why his team hoisted so many shots from beyond the arc. ``I thought our guys shot the ball with confidence for most of the night. We just got cold late when it mattered.’’
Orlando was without versatile forward Jeff Green, a player the team could have used to check Kaminsky in the fourth quarter. Green missed the game because of back spasms.
The Magic came into Wednesday riding a two-game winning streak thanks to defeats of Phoenix and Philadelphia. It was the first win streak of at least two games since Dec. 23 and 26 – a span of 12 weeks. That December winning spree was stopped by Charlotte and ironically enough the Hornets repeated the feat again on Wednesday.
Charlotte won the first three meetings against the Magic by a combined 80 points, grabbing leads of 29, 33 and 42 points in those games. Prior to Wednesday’s game, Hornets coach Steve Clifford – a former Magic assistant coach for five seasons from 2007-12 – said his team had played ``three of our seven-or-eight best games of the season’’ against the Magic.
The Magic played significantly better on Wednesday, but that was little solace following the fourth-quarter faltering.
``I thought we played well offensively in the fourth and had some great offensive possessions that led to open shots that we just didn’t knock down,’’ Vogel said. ``Most of the quarter looked like that. There were a couple of possessions that got busted up, but there were some really good possessions that didn’t result in a payoff. That’s just the game of basketball.’’
Up six at the half, the Magic pushed that lead out to as much as 10 points in the third quarter and settled for an 82-77 advantage by the start of the fourth. Ross had two 3-pointers and eight points in the third, while Vucevic did a little bit of everything. By the start of the fourth, he already had 14 points, 11 rebounds, six assists and two blocked shots.
The Magic missed two big opportunities to break the game open – when they were up 58-48 early in the third and 69-60 in the middle of the third period – but they never could completely break free of the Hornets. When they didn’t, the Magic paid dearly for it in the fourth quarter and were saddled with another frustration-filled loss.
``We were up like (nine) or (10), but we could never go over (that total),’’ Fournier fumed. ``They fought through it, they stayed in the game and I thought that was the key. We couldn’t get over 10 points (with the lead) and they made tough shots.’’
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