Postgame Report: Magic 115, Knicks 89

Josh Cohen
Digital News Manager

NEW YORK – A budding basketball star and a first-time actor in a major-motion picture this past summer, Aaron Gordon dressed stylishly on Sunday in New York, complementing his trendy torn jeans with a scoop-neck T-shirt, a cream blazer, several necklaces and some white-gold-rimmed glasses.

On this night, however, no one at New York’s famed Madison Square Garden even noticed Gordon’s snazzy wardrobe because of the way his Orlando Magic stole the show and took apart the New York Knicks with some torrid shooting.

The Magic were without Gordon because of a sprained left ankle and it did nothing at all to slow down their surging offense. Orlando drilled seven 3-pointers in the second quarter and 11 in the first half – both of them being near franchise records – and demolished the bumbling Knicks 115-89.

``We talked about how we were missing some guys who are important to us and we wanted to come out locked in from the beginning and I think that was our best start of the year,’’ said Magic center Nikola Vucevic, who had 21 points and 14 rebounds and made 10 of 17 shots with a 3-pointer. ``We took the lead early and we never let them back into the game. Coach (Steve Clifford) put a big emphasis on this game and I’m proud of how we played.’’

How significant was the one-sided win? The 26-point victory was the Magic’s largest in the 30-year history of the franchise. It eclipsed Orlando’s 24-point whipping of the Knicks at MSG last April.

Orlando (6-7) won for a fourth time in five games and it did so in spectacular fashion despite having to play short-handed because of injuries. The Magic led 10-0 before the Knicks (4-9) connected on a shot and they were just getting started. They had 14 3-pointers in the game’s first three periods, 17 3-pointers in the game and once led by as much as 34 points – accomplishments that kept the Madison Square Garden sellout crowd of 19,812 strangely silent most of the night.

``Everybody had to do a little more tonight and with the absence of (Gordon) and (Jonathan Isaac) we all had to help a little more,’’ said guard Terrence Ross, who scored 22 points and made five of eight 3-pointers off the Magic bench. ``We needed that extra effort and we all did that.’’

Gordon had been the Magic’s most efficient and productive player over the past four games, but they didn’t miss him on this night. Vucevic smashed New York on the inside, while Ross, Evan Fournier (12 points and two 3-pointers), D.J Augustin (nine points and three 3-pointers) and Jerian Grant (nine points, eight assists and three 3-pointers) did the damage from the perimeter. Jonathon Simmons chipped in nine points and seven assists and Jarell Martin – the starter for Gordon – added seven points, six rebounds and three assists in 27 minutes.

``You could tell it with everybody and even this morning in shootaround, the guys were very focused,’’ Magic coach Steve Clifford said. ``We had some guys playing bigger roles like Wes (Iwundu) and Jarell (Martin) playing bigger roles and they played well. But when you shoot the ball like that, you’re usually going to have a good night.’’

Orlando lost to the Los Angeles Clippers in lopsided fashion back on Nov. 2 to drop to 2-6. Following that game, the Magic had an emotional team meeting that just might have saved their season. Since that moment, they have won in San Antonio and New York and have beaten Cleveland and Washington. The only loss came last Wednesday to the Detroit Pistons in a game that Orlando twice led by double digits.

``We’re just understanding what we’re doing and our approach has gotten better,’’ Ross said. ``It’s a team thing. We’re all getting on the same page, playing hard, moving the ball and doing what we’re supposed to be doing. It’s working for us.’’

Magic rookie Mo Bamba, a native of Harlem, played his at Madison Square Garden for the first time in his basketball career and was solid throughout. He tied his career high in scoring with 15 points and also grabbed eight rebounds. He also had 15 points in Friday’s defeat of Washington.

``I had an `oh-snap moment’ (upon checking into the game), but after I went up and down a couple of times, I was OK,’’ Bamba said of playing in the arena he went to several times as a patron but never a player. ``I couldn’t imagine taking that floor when I was a kid.’’

The game also featured Mario Hezonja playing his first game against the Magic since signing a free-agent deal with the Knicks last July. Hezonja, the No. 5 pick of the 2015 NBA Draft, struggled mightily in his three seasons in Magic pinstripes and left in search of more playing time. He missed his first three shots on Sunday and finished with 12 points and five rebounds.

Enes Kanter had 16 points and 15 rebounds for the Knicks, who were clearly fatigued from losing in Toronto a day earlier. Tampa native Kevin Knox, who worked out for the Magic in the weeks leading up to the June NBA Draft, scored 17 points off the New York bench.

The Magic will be in action once again on Monday night when they face the Southeast Division rival Wizards in Washington, D.C. The two teams should be very familiar with one another what with the Magic beating the Wizards 117-108 on Friday in Orlando. In that game, the Magic led by as much as 25 points in the third quarter before the Wizards charged back to within one point in the final minutes. However, Augustin sealed the victory with three consecutive big plays.

``I think we’re making progress,’’ Clifford said. ``(Monday) night will be a real challenge. To go in there and play against a really good team on their home court after them coming off a really good win in Miami, it will be difficult. In so many ways, for early in the year, (Monday) we’ll see where we’re at.’’

Up 25 at the half, the Magic did what they needed to do to keep the ragged Knicks at bay. By the start of the fourth period, Orlando had an 87-60 lead and it had one fewer 3-pointer (14) than the Knicks did turnovers (15). The lopsided score allowed the Magic to liberally rest their starters – something that could come in handy on Monday when they face the Wizards.

Knowing they would need to play well without Gordon in the lineup, the Magic were locked in from the start and proceeded to systematically take apart the Knicks. Orlando led 10-0 and 19-4 by the time New York had called its second time out. And at the half, Orlando was in possession of a commanding 65-40 lead thanks to the Magic’s torrid shooting and some bumbling basketball by the Knicks.

Orlando picked apart New York’s defense and drilled 11 first-half 3-pointers. Six different Magic players hit shots from 3-pointer range in the first 24 minutes -- three of them from reserve point guard Grant. Fournier, Augustin and Ross all had two 3-pointers in the first half.

The Magic’s 11 3-pointers were one shy of the franchise record for threes in a half. Also, they made seven 3-pointers in the second period, which was also one off a franchise mark for production in a quarter.

Vucevic, the longest-tenured player on the Magic, feels that after the a somewhat rocky start as the squad transitioned to having a new coach and some new players, they have started figure out how they need to play to be successful. Of course, there is still lots of basketball to be played, but the veteran center likes the direction Orlando is headed after winning four of the last five.

``I think we’ve just been a little more locked in and we’re executing the game plan that coach has for us better,’’ Vucevic said. ``It’s a long year and you’re going to have ups and downs, but we want to try and improve every game. I think tonight was a great example of how locked in we are and how well we are executing our game plan.’’

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.