Postgame Report: Magic 102, Pistons 89

By John Denton
Dec. 28, 2017

ORLANDO – A simple mathematic formula brought tremendous promise to the Orlando Magic on Thursday night and led to head coach Frank Vogel having a huge smile splashed across his face.

``Nineteen points per game plus 19 points per game feels pretty good,’’ Vogel said excitedly, referring to the returns of leading scorers Aaron Gordon and Evan Fournier.

At long last, the injury-ravaged Magic looked close to whole once again with the returns of Gordon and Fournier and they rode some clutch shooting from veteran center Marreese Speights in the second half for a 102-89 defeat of the Detroit Pistons at the Amway Center.

Speights, who was playfully hawking his ``MO BUCKETS’’ hats and T-shirts after the game, had 16 points, two 3-pointers and a thunderous block of an Andre Drummond hook shot, while Elfrid Payton played a stellar all-around game as Orlando (12-24) snapped an unsightly nine-game losing streak.

``Definitely, getting (Gordon and Fournier) back gives us a big lift,’’ said Payton, who thrived with having more offensive weapons at his disposal and finished with 19 points, eight rebounds and eight assists. ``We’ve known all along that we had guys in here who could get the job done. Now, it’s about doing it again and doing it consistently. That’s when we will have made our biggest leap.’’

Fournier (17 points, five assists and three 3-pointers) and Gordon (14 points, seven rebounds and two threes) each fared well despite their playing statuses being uncertain until 30 minutes prior to tipoff. Gordon played after missing five games with a calf strain, while Fournier played through the pain of a sore foot. He returned to action on Tuesday in Miami after missing eight games with a sprained ankle and gutted his way through Thursday.

``When you have guys out, others step up and then when you come back they still play at that same level,’’ said Gordon, who had the first play of the game drawn up for him by Vogel and he buried the 3-pointer 35 seconds into the return. ``It’s a beautiful thing when everybody is clicking and it seemed like we had good energy tonight, from the beginning of the end. They made a few runs, but we made sure everybody stayed poised and we got a win.’’

The Magic won for the first time since Dec. 6 in an overtime defeat of the Atlanta Hawks. Orlando has two nine-game losing streaks, but it is still in reach of the playoff chase because of the pedestrian nature of the Eastern Conference.

Orlando set a franchise record for free throw makes without a miss (17), thanks to some help from Detroit’s Drummond. Payton missed a free throw in the second quarter, but Drummond was whistled for the rare defensive goaltending of a free throw when he snatched the ball while it was still within the cylinder of the rim. The 17 makes from the free throw line without a miss topped the previous record of 16 set on April 10, 2015.

Orlando’s victory was revenge for the Magic’s 114-110 loss in Detroit two weeks ago, a game that they trailed by 24 points before cutting it to five in the fourth quarter. This time around, the Magic’s defense limited Detroit to 39.8 percent shooting and just nine 3-pointers – eight fewer than two weeks ago when the two teams played in Detroit and the Pistons tied a franchise record with 17 threes.

``There’s been a huge emphasis the last couple of days on playing for each other,’’ said Vogel, whose Magic shot 45.1 percent from the floor, drilled 11 3-pointers and handed out 22 assists. ``We emphasize it all year, but more importantly the last couple of games because it’s been about other guys trying to pick up the scoring load. It has to be about the pass and creating for others. The pass makes the game easy and we had our best passing game of the last couple of weeks and it resulted in better shooting.’’

Unlike previous games where their offense lacked firepower, the Magic had plenty of weapons this time around with Fournier’s outside shooting and Gordon’s high-wire drives to the rim. Fournier made six of 13 shots and three of five 3-pointers, while Gordon had seven rebounds and two 3-pointers to go with his 14 points.

Just the threat of their offensive games opened things up for Bismack Biyombo (12 points and 13 rebounds) and Speights, who drilled two second-half 3-pointers.

``Coach (Vogel) left the second unit in there and we’ve got a lot of veteran guys in there who are ready to defend,’’ Speights said. ``We’re just tired of losing. We finally locked in and got the win. The starters came back and finished it off. Hopefully this is something we can build on until all the guys get back.’’

Even with the returns of Gordon and Fournier, the Magic are still playing extremely shorthanded. Nikola Vucevic (fractured left hand) and Terrence Ross (knee sprain) are still weeks away from returning, while the same might be the case for rookie Jonathan Isaac (sprained ankle) because of lingering pain.

Detroit was playing its first game without standout point guard Reggie Jackson, who suffered a Grade-3 ankle sprain in Tuesday’s rout of Indiana and is expected to miss at least six weeks. Ish Smith, who played for the Magic from 2012-13, filled in nicely for Jackson by repeatedly hurting Orlando in transition with his quickness.

Former Magic forward Tobias Harris, who is making a strong run at the first All-Star Game appearance of his career, led Detroit with 21 points. Drummond finished with 17 points and 18 rebounds, while Smith chipped in 18 points, seven rebounds and five assists.

The Magic will be back at the Amway Center on Saturday night when they host the rival Miami Heat. The two Sunshine State rivals have split two games thus far with Orlando winning the season-opener and Miami winning earlier in the week in South Florida.

The third quarter saw three wild swings take place, but the Magic ultimately emerged with a 77-73 edge that they took into the final 12 minutes. Up 62-55 early in the third, Orlando surrendered a 12-0 run to the Pistons that closely resembled a four-minute dry spell by Orlando in the first half. This time, however, the Magic showed some toughness by responding with a 15-4 burst of their own keyed by the resilient play of Speights.

Orlando got to the half tied at 50, but that had to be a bit frustrating considering that it led by as much as 10 with 5:10 remaining in the second period. The Magic hit a 4-minute dry spell where the Pistons ripped off 14 consecutive points – a run aided by Orlando’s six straight missed shots and three turnovers.

The Magic opened the fourth period with a Speights jumper and consecutive 3-pointers from D.J. Augustin and Arron Afflalo. Down the stretch, the Magic made it stand up with another offensive flurry from Fournier and Gordon for a much-needed victory.

``The Pistons are a good team and they blew us out when we were in Detroit, so this was a good redemption game for us. Now, we’ve got another one coming up,’’ Gordon said, referring to Saturday’s rematch against Miami. ``I was just happy my teammates were clicking tonight and I was able to rely on them. I’m still trying to find a rhythm and a flow again after being out for five games, but my body feels OK.’’

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