By John Denton Nov. 1, 2017
MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Not only did the Orlando Magic enter Wednesday’s game as the most accurate 3-point shooting team in the NBA, but it also had the distinction of being the best in the league at yielding threes.
Some of that success at limiting foes to a league-best 27.5 percent accuracy from 3-point range, Magic coach Frank Vogel rationalized, was merely ``luck’’ and a matter of catching foes on poor shooting nights.
As it turns out, the 3-point line – both on the offensive and defensive ends of the floor – factored heavily into Wednesday night for the surging and surprising Magic.
Aaron Gordon hit a clutch, go-ahead 3-pointer with 51.7 seconds to play and then Orlando could only look on helplessly as Memphis’ guards Mario Chalmers and Dillon Brooks had wide-open 3-point looks down the stretch that would have crushed the Magic’s hopes.
When both Memphis players missed in the final seconds, Orlando was able to prevail with a 101-99 victory – the first regular-season success in Memphis since January of 2008.
``I, for sure, thought the game was over, they had won and we could pack it up,’’ Gordon said of Memphis’ misses down the stretch. ``(Brooks) had a wide-open shot and he had already hit one in the corner. I, for sure, thought that ball was going to go straight through the rim and that was going to be the end of the game. But it wasn’t.’’
Orlando improved to 6-2 – its best start since posting a similar record to open the 2009-10 season. Also, the Magic won in Memphis for just the third time in franchise history. It’s their first win in West Tennessee since Jan. 23, 2008.
It was how the Magic won – without their top two point guards and in gritty fashion against the defensively sound Grizzlies (5-3) -- that was most impressive on this night. The victory wrapped up a 2-1 road trip for the Magic and kept them atop the Eastern Conference. It’s still very early in the 82-game NBA season, but Vogel likes the toughness his team displayed once again.
``It’s a good early sign. Obviously, there is a lot of room for improvement in a lot of areas, but I’m very proud of our guys,’’ Vogel said. ``I’m very proud of them, they care a great deal and they’ve worked very hard. They’re trying to play the right way and you have to tip your hat to our guys for how tough they are playing on defense and how unselfishly they are playing offensively.’’
Down as much as 11 points early on and unable to sustain much all night against the Grizzlies – owners of the NBA’s best defense in terms of statistical data – the Magic got the clutch 3-pointer Gordon and another strong effort from Evan Fournier to win again.
The final minute of the game saw some wild swings and errors on both sides. Gasol scored on a driving layup with 64 seconds to play to put Memphis up 99-97. Seconds later, Gordon drilled the corner 3-pointer – off a brilliant feed from Fournier – that gave the Magic a 100-99 lead.
``They both went to Evan because they didn’t want to give up a three – the play was originally designed for Evan to come off a pin-down screen – and there was a little miscommunication on their part,’’ remembered Gordon, who hit his second game-winning 3-pointer of the young season. ``I was open under the basket, but Evan couldn’t get it to me then because he couldn’t get it over Marc Gasol. I saw Evan driving and knew I had to relocate. I got to the 3-point line and knocked it down.’’
The teams then traded turnovers on the next four possessions – two from Orlando’s Terrence Ross and two by the Grizzlies. Orlando avoided potential daggers in the final 16 seconds when Chalmers and Brooks couldn’t connect on open 3-point shots that would have put Memphis into the lead.
Said Vogel: ``We got very lucky down the stretch. But that’s the game of basketball. Sometimes guys hit guarded shots and you’ve got to live with that, but sometimes you have a miscue, they get an open look and miss.’’
Fournier scored 22 points, grabbed eight rebounds and drilled four of seven 3-pointers. Gordon scored 19 points and had two threes, while Ross added 15 points and two more threes.
Orlando hit 50.7 percent of its field goals and 13 of 29 3-pointers. Memphis made 47.6 percent of its shots and 10 of 30 threes. Memphis, which came into the game atop the Western Conference, got 32 points from Tyreke Evans, while Marc Gasol chipped in 22. Memphis standout point guard Mike Conley sat out of the game because of lingering pain in his Achilles’ tendon.
Fournier, Orlando’s most productive and consistent player all season, helped ensure that the Magic got the victory by drawing the defense to him and finding Gordon for what proved to be the winning 3-point shot.
``We ran a play that we usually run late in the fourth quarter when it’s a close game,’’ said Fournier, who had three assists and has been a much-improved passer all season. ``I had two guys on me and Marc Gasol on me and that left Aaron naked (all alone) in the corner. It was an easy play to make and it was a big-time shot for us.’’
Orlando lost point guard D.J. Augustin, who was starting in place of the injured Elfrid Payton, in the second quarter. Augustin (five points and three assists in 14 minutes) sprinted for an easy, fast break layup with 3 minutes left in the second quarter, but upon landing he immediately grabbed at his hip and went down to the floor. Rather than foul to stop the action, Orlando played out the next possession – five against four – and gave up two offensive rebounds before getting possession that allowed them to call timeout.
Augustin, who has filled in admirably for Payton, did not return because of a strained left hamstring. Orlando played the rest of the game with Shelvin Mack (nine points and eight assists in 25 minutes) and Jonathon Simmons (nine points, five rebounds and two assists in 26 minutes) at point guard – a rotation that could play out in the next game if Payton can’t return. Augustin is sure to miss one game and could be out for a matter of weeks if the strain is severe.
Payton missed his sixth consecutive game because of a strained left hamstring, but he reported making progress with the injury and might play as soon as Friday. If he can’t play, the Magic will manage, Mack said.
``I think it’s enough (with him and Simmons at point guard),’’ said Mack, who made three of four shots and hit a 3-pointer. ``We were able to get it done (on Wednesday) and with the way we play, a lot of people bring the ball up in different situations. We have a lot of unselfish guys. We’re basketball players and we can figure it out.’’
Orlando will play its first game at the Amway Center in a week when it hosts the Chicago Bulls on Friday. It will be the start of a three-game home stand with games coming up against Boston (Sunday) and New York (Nov. 8) before the Magic head out for their first West Coast trip of the season. Orlando is 3-0 at home, beating Miami, Brooklyn and San Antonio at the Amway Center thus far.
Vogel, who is in his second season in Orlando and still steamed by last year’s 29-53 finish, believes that the Magic are just scratching the surface of their potential. The Magic came into Wednesday ranked first in the NBA in 3-point shooting (44.1), second in scoring (116.9 ppg.) and second in overall field goal accuracy (48.7 percent). Meanwhile, the Grizzlies have been able to win despite ranking just 24th in scoring (100.6 ppg.), 26th in field goal percentage (42.7 percent) and 24th in 3-point accuracy (33.2 percent). He thinks his team can be among the elite in the Easter Conference … as long as they continue to improve on the things that they are already doing well.
``Personally, I think we can improve. On the offensive end, we’re still having too many one-pass possessions, no-pass possessions, still too many forces at the rim, still not crashing enough and not taking care of the basketball enough. I think there is still a lot of room for improvement on that end. No, we’re not going to shoot that well every night and we’re going to play tough defensive groups and games where we’re undermanned because of injury, but there are still things that we can improve upon. That’s what I’m challenging our guys with – not can we sustain it, but can we keep improving with every game that we’re playing.’’
Just as they did at the end of the first half, Orlando closed the third period with an impressive surge to gain control. Once down 73-68, Orlando mustered a game-turning 13-1 surge. Five different players scored during the run, including Marreese Speights – the hero from Monday’s win in New Orleans. Speights came in with 1:19 left in the third period and drilled a 3-pointer just 14 seconds later. That shot and the run gave the Magic an 81-75 lead to take into the fourth period.
Orlando and Memphis were tied at 54 at intermission, but that was after a downright bizarre first 24 minutes of the game. The Magic led 14-5 right out of the gates and seemed poised to run away from a Memphis team clearly missing Conley. However, Orlando’s reserves – which have played so well most of the season – got outplayed late in the first quarter and early in the second to put the Magic in a hole as large as 11 points.
In the end, Orlando found a way to win even though it was down two point guards because of injuries, it turned the ball over 24 times and hadn’t won in Memphis in nearly a decade.
``We’re moving in the right way,’’ Orlando’s Mack said. ``Every game is not always going to be pretty and we’re not always going to hit 17 or 18 threes. But when you know that you can rely on your defense and get these kinds of wins, that shows growth. That’s what good teams do. With the OK teams, if they’re not hitting shots, then the game is over. But we try to hang our hat on both sides of the ball.’’
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