Magic vs. Clippers: Postgame Report

By John Denton
Dec. 14, 2016

ORLANDO – Unstoppable some nights (See: San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Washington and Atlanta wins) and badly off the mark in others (See: 10 games with fewer than 90 points), the Orlando Magic often don’t know what they can expect from their potent, but erratic offense from game to game.

On Wednesday, the Magic displayed some of the hot and some of the cold offensive play – something that both kept them in it and killed them late. The inconsistencies have been such a perplexing issue that even those in the heart of the topsy-turvy Magic madness struggle to put a finger on the team’s helter-skelter nature. However, Evan Fournier took a stab at it recently.

``Hey, we’re the bipolar Magic,’’ the guard cracked, being equal parts serious and silly.

Orlando shot the ball well most of the night and matched the powerful Los Angeles Clippers basket for basket before going cold at absolutely the wrong time. Tied after three quarters, the Magic missed seven of their first eight shots of the fourth quarter and could never get back over the hump in a 113-108 loss to the Clippers.

A noisy, sellout crowd 18,846 saw the Magic shoot 47.2 percent, hit 14 3-pointers and get a career-best 33-point night from forward Aaron Gordon. However, Orlando (11-16) made just 8 of 23 shots in the final period and it was outscored 26-21 in the fourth by the star-studded Clippers (19-7).

``(Missing shots) is going to happen throughout a game and at the start of the fourth is when it happened tonight, but we had chances to win the game,’’ said Gordon, who took no solace from setting his career high in a loss. ``We just missed shots, but we had plenty of chances to overcome that.’’

The Magic were hoping to continue the momentum from a Tuesday night win in Atlanta when they set season highs for points (131), 3-pointers (15), assists (36) and field goal percentage (58.6 percent).

They failed to hit those numbers on Wednesday and when the Clippers gashed them for 50 percent shooting, 14 3-pointers and 26 free throws – eight of them coming from DeAndre Jordan in a 4-minute stretch where the Hack-A-Jordan was employed – it spelled doom for the Magic.

``We were just grinding and giving everything we could to get a W,’’ Magic coach Frank Vogel said. ``Our guys played their hearts out, but we just fell short. … I do think we passed the ball well for 3 ½ quarters, but not well enough down the stretch. That’s where the extra passes are lethal.

``We’re coming in that regard and we’re growing with 29 more assists and eight turnovers against the third-ranked defense in the league,’’ Vogel added. ``That’s after doing what we did (Tuesday) night against the second-ranked defense in the league (in Atlanta). We’re improving on the offensive end and I’m encouraged by that.’’

The frustrating defeat dropped the Magic to 4-9 at home and it extended their losing streak at the Amway Center to six games. Orlando hasn’t won at home since a Nov. 19 victory against a short-handed Dallas Mavericks team. The home struggles have put something of a damper on a 7-7 road mark that includes wins in San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Detroit and Atlanta.

Not only were the Magic playing for a second time in as many nights, they were in their 10th game in the past 16 nights on Wednesday. Also, it’s the third straight time in the past two weeks that they have played the night before and returned to Orlando to face a rested team at the Amway Center.

``We want to win, but we’re not going to use the travel and the coming back (home) as an excuse,’’ said Magic forward Jeff Green, who scored 19 points and drilled four 3-pointers off the bench. ``Everybody has to (travel) in the NBA, so we’ve just got to find the way the next time we’re coming back (home on the second night of a back-to-back set of games) to win. The good thing about the NBA is that we play Friday.’’

Gordon was engaged from the opening tap and scored his 33 points by making 13 of 21 shots, four of eight 3-pointers and three of six free throws. In addition to the six dunks he got by running the floor and crashing the boards, Gordon made the Clippers pay for backing off him defensively. He easily topped his previous high of 22 points set two weeks ago in Philadelphia.

Said Gordon: ``A win would have felt much better. As well as I played offensively, defensively I fouled Chris Paul at the end of the game, very ill-advised, 40 feet away from the basket. So there are points in the game where I could have played better. So a win would feel much better.’’

Fournier continued his highly efficient play with 24 points and eight assists. Bismack Biyombo had nine points and 12 rebounds, but he missed six of seven free throws.

Serge Ibaka got into early foul trouble and had difficulty repeating the 29 points he poured in on Tuesday, finishing with just eight points and eight rebounds. His shooting has been a big barometer of the Magic’s success or failure all season and it wasn’t surprising that they came up short on a night when he made just three of 10 field goals and one of five 3-pointers. Orlando was a plus-four in scoring in his 30 minutes on the floor, but a minus-nine when he was out of the game because of foul trouble.

A night after the finest performance of his career in Atlanta, Magic point guard Elfrid Payton accounted for nine points and nine assists.

Austin Rivers, who grew up around the Magic organization as the son of head coach Doc Rivers, poured in a season-high 25 points and made a career-best seven 3-pointers in 10 tries. A night earlier, he had his prep number retired at Winter Park High School – a ceremony that was attended by many of his Clippers teammates. Rivers was questionable to play after recently suffering a concussion, but he played and played well on Wednesday.

``That was good, and we needed it, too,’’ Doc Rivers said of his son’s shooting as a starting guard. ``(The Clippers) were laughing. Maybe we need to get hit in the head more. That (shooting) was terrific.’’

Blake Griffin pumped in 23 points, while Jordan ignored Orlando’s Hack-A-Jordan foul tactics and made 12 of 18 free throws en route to 22 points and 12 rebounds. Chris Paul chipped in 16 points and 10 assists.

Said Vogel of fouling Jordan, who came into the game as a 51.3 percent free throw shooter: ``It’s 100 percent the right numbers game to play with the fifth-ranked offense in the league and what he shoots from the line. Analytics people would say it’s 1,000 percent the right play to make. You don’t want to disrupt the rhythm of your own game. But we played last night and we’re down a big guy. Our ability to play that game and get Serge and Biz to get some extra rest made sense for our club tonight. That’s not necessarily something that we’re going to use 100 percent of the time, but analytically it makes sense.’’

Orlando was without center Nikola Vucevic for a third straight game because of lower back/hip pain. Vucevic fell hard to the floor last Friday in Charlotte when his legs were knocked out from under him. Vucevic said on Tuesday that his back tends to lock up when he pushes off his right leg. Still, the big man is hopeful that he can return by Friday’s home game.

Down nine at the half and looking like they could be in trouble, the Magic played inspired an inspired third quarter and got the game tied at 87 by the start of the fourth on a Green 3-point shot.

Not only did the Magic make six of nine threes in the third, but their Hack-A-Jordan strategy back-fired. Orlando used the tactic six straight times only to see Jordan make eight of 12 freebies, including the last six in a row.

``It worked for us because we won the (third) quarter by nine (points),’’ Vogel said. ``He made more free throws than his percentage would suggest, but we won the quarter by nine (points).’’

Orlando put up a good fight in the first half, leading for much of the first quarter before fatigue and foul trouble seemed to get the best of them. Back-to-back 30-point quarters by the Clippers left the short-handed Magic in a 60-51 halftime hole.

The Magic held a 25-22 late in the first period when Ibaka picked up his second foul and headed to the bench. From there, the Clippers outscored the Magic 8-0 to grab the lead.

A third foul on Ibaka came with 6:34 in the first half and the Magic within 43-39. Without the talented power forward on the floor, the Magic had major difficulties trying to stop Griffin, who battered them for 16 first-half points on six of eight shooting.

Gordon had it rolling in the first half, carrying the Orlando offense through the early stages. Gordon ran his way to two spectacular dunks, drilled two 3-pointers and got to the free throw line six times (with three makes) for 17 first-half points.

Still, it wasn’t enough on a night when Orlando’s offense was on point most of the night and off track at the wrong moment.

``It worked out for me tonight, but I’m just disappointed that we didn’t get the win,’’ Gordon muttered.

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Orlando Magic. All opinions expressed by John Denton are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Orlando Magic or their Basketball Operations staff, partners or sponsors.