Postgame Report: Magic 114, Cavs 93

By John Denton
Oct. 21, 2017

CLEVELAND – Down two starters because of injuries and still licking their wounds from a frustration-filled loss a night earlier, the Orlando Magic staggered into Saturday looking as if they could potentially be an easy target for LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

What might have been overlooked is the fact that the Magic have said repeatedly that they aren’t anywhere near the same team that has struggled for five seasons and one that has been punchless in the past against James and the Cavs.

Orlando shot the ball as well from 3-point range early in the game as it has in the 29-year history of the franchise to set the tone for an otherwise shocking night. The Magic answered every Cleveland run with a spurt of their own, got contributions from all over the roster and stood up to James in a dominant 114-93 defeat of the Cavs before a stunned crowd at Quicken Loans Arena.

``I think that’s all still to be determined, but I think it’s an early sign,’’ Magic coach Frank Vogel said when asked about his team’s newfound grit and willingness to fight. ``With how we’re playing offensively and moving the basketball, we’re facilitating everything and everybody feels good about our chemistry. … Everybody is playing with the basketball the right way, thinking extra pass and playing for each other. That’s how chemistry is established.’’

Then, there was this from the game: The Magic (2-1) never trailed from start to finish against Cleveland (2-1), which had owned every aspect of the rivalry since 2012.

Early in the day on Saturday, James tweeted a message that said ``Can 8 p.m. hurry up and get here! I’m so ready to hoop again!’’ Considering that James hadn’t lost to the Magic in nearly six years, one could understand his excitement to face Orlando again. Instead, he got nothing but frustration and his Cavs were a minus-31 on the scoreboard in his 31 minutes on the floor.

``I couldn’t relax until (Cleveland) put their third unit in because they have LeBron and you can never relax against a player like that and it’s never over,’’ said Magic center Nikola Vucevic, who followed up his career night on Friday with another 23 points, seven rebounds and five assists. ``In fact, it’s the first time that I beat (James) since I’ve been in the NBA. It’s a win that means a lot to me because he’s a player that I respect and admire a lot. It’s just one game, but it’s a win that hopefully we can build on.’’

The one-sided victory for the Magic ended a 17-game losing streak to Cleveland, a skid that dated back to Nov. of 2012 and was the longest formerly active losing streak in the NBA. Also, James had beaten the Magic 18 times in a row – a streak that reached back to his first stint in Cleveland, his entire four-year stay in Miami and this second run in northeast Ohio.

What made the result even more shocking was the fact that the Magic were without standouts Aaron Gordon (sore left ankle) and Elfrid Payton (left hamstring strain). But the Magic’s tougher, veteran-laden corps of reserves picked up the slack and led the way to the win.

``What I keep telling everybody is that the focus is on today and we’re not focusing on the next game, not focusing on the past. (On Saturday), we came to play, we came together and there were no excuses,’’ said Magic guard Evan Fournier, who scored 13 points and drilled three 3-pointers. ``No matter what, we were going to fight.’’

Orlando stopped the Cavs cold by making eight 3-pointers in the first quarter and 17 for the game. Including Friday when Orlando hit 18 3-pointers, this sequence is the first time in franchise history that the team has made at least 17 3-pointers in consecutive games.

``We started off the game really well, moving the ball, playing hard and making shots,’’ Fournier said. ``When you are up 20 in the first quarter, that obviously gives you a huge edge. But the mentality was great all night.’’

The Magic shot 44.4 percent from the floor, held Cleveland to 38.4 percent shooting and once led by as much as 37 points. By the 8:21 mark of the fourth quarter, Orlando was up 99-67, James, Dwyane Wade and Kevin Love were headed to the bench and the fans were headed for the exits.

Vucevic pumped in a career-best 41 points and had six 3-pointers on Friday, but on Saturday he got much more help. Jonathon Simmons, the Magic’s prized free-agent acquisition over the summer, had 19 points and three 3-pointers, while D.J. Augustin (12 points and 10 assists), Mario Hezonja (11 points) and Marreese Speights (10 points) played especially well. Jonathan Isaac, who had to guard James in just his third pro game, chipped in five points and six rebounds while starting in place of Gordon.

``I feel like it’s going to be super fun for me and super tough, but it’s just a game and a lesson. You’ve got to go in there and learn,’’ Isaac said before the game. ``I think it will be more surreal (guarding James). Not so much star struck, but just surreal that I’m able to be on the same court with (James).’’

James finished with 22 points, but just three came after halftime. Love chipped in 19 points and nine rebounds, while Wade (five points) struggled through a two-of-eight shooting night.

Winners in the opener against Miami, Orlando reverted to some bad defensive habits on Friday and lost 126-121 to the Brooklyn nets. In that game, the Magic yielded 60 points in the paint and 16 offensive rebounds – major points of emphasis going into Saturday night’s game. Mission accomplished, indeed, after the way the Magic demolished the Cavs from start to finish.

After playing Friday and Saturday, Orlando will be off on Sunday before returning to the practice floor on Monday. The Magic will be back in action on Tuesday when they host Brooklyn in a rematch of Friday’s game.

Up 11 at the half after a stellar first half, the Magic seemed vulnerable to a James-led rally in the third quarter. Cleveland missed its first eight 3-point shots, but hit three of the next five tries. And when Wade connected with 6:14 left in the third Cleveland was within 65-58 of the Magic.

That moment only emboldened the Magic as they regained control with an impressive 17-2 romp. Augustin was leading the charge and helped the Magic take much of the suspense out of it by the end of the third quarter when they led 88-65. Augustin even banked in a 3-pointer as the shot clock expired – another sign that it was completely the Magic’s night.

``Last year, we probably would have crumbled and let them get the lead back,’’ Augustin said afterward. ``But this year, we stayed composed, stayed calm and kept doing what we knew we could do.’’

Orlando put on a downright shocking shooting show in the first quarter to build a lead a big lead, and it held on for dear life in the second period to get to halftime with a 56-45 advantage.

The Magic had as many 3-pointers (eight) as Cleveland did field goals (eight) in the first quarter, allowing them to race to a 36-18 edge. The eight 3-pointers tied the franchise record for most threes in a quarter, a record that was set most recently on Dec. 2, 2009 against the New York Knicks.

``We came out really wanting to play and we showed that from the beginning,’’ Vucevic said. ``We know how good of a team they are and how we had struggled against them the past couple of years. We knew if we let them play their game it would be a tough night. So we came out aggressive and with the way we cut, shared the ball and played for each other – that’s what really made us so successful. I’m really happy for this team because this is a great win.’’

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