By John Denton Feb. 6, 2018
ORLANDO – The severity with which Tuesday night’s jaw-dropping game at the Amway Center turned around – a whopping 39 points from a stretch in the second quarter to one dramatically different in the fourth – said as much about the Orlando Magic’s sudden resurgence as it did the Cleveland Cavaliers’ complete collapse.
Once down as much as 21 points in the second quarter and seemingly on the verge of suffering another ugly home loss, the Magic and dynamic guard Jonathon Simmons put on a comeback for the ages in the second half to add to Cleveland and LeBron James’ misery.
Simmons, who was questionable to even play because of a sprained right ankle, scored 22 of his career-best 34 points in the third quarter and the Magic ran Cleveland ragged in a one-sided second half for a 116-98 stunner before a sellout crowd of 18,846 at the Amway Center.
While there were plenty of shocking numbers to emerge from Tuesday’s game, this one was the most significant: From the time that the Magic trailed 59-38 with 5:48 to play in the first half to the 2:35 mark of the fourth quarter when they led by 18, they outscored the Cavaliers 73-34. Orlando throttled Cleveland to the tune of a 41-22 edge in the third quarter and then it mostly smothered the Cavs in a 24-9 fourth period.
``They’ve been having their struggles of late and we felt like they would let us back in it,’’ Magic coach Frank Vogel candidly admitted. ``But, obviously, we didn’t anticipate it to be the way that it was.’’
Orlando (17-36) tied its sixth-largest comeback in a win in franchise history. Additionally, the victory was the Magic’s first against the Cavs in Orlando since Nov. 23, 2012.
Paired with Monday’s stirring win in Miami, Orlando captured consecutive victories for the first time since Nov. 10. On this night, the Magic pulled all of it off by flipping the script on a game that looked dreadful early on but turned into sheer delight in a one-sided second half.
``The Cavs have given us a lot of problems in the last few years, kicking our (butts),’’ said Magic forward Evan Fournier, who scored 19 points and grabbed six rebounds. ``It feels good to beat the best player on the planet (James). Obviously, (the Cavs) are not playing their best basketball, but it still feels good.’’
It had to feel especially good to Simmons considering the way his sprained right ankle bothered him in the hours leading up to tipoff on Tuesday. He hurt himself late in Monday’s game in Miami – one he won with a tie-breaking dunk with 91 seconds to play – and didn’t know that he’d be able to play until a couple of hours prior to tipoff.
Did he ever play on Tuesday? Simmons had just five points at halftime, but he pumped in 29 after intermission to lead the second-half charge. He scored 22 points in the third period and made seven of eight shots, including a 28-foot 3-pointer to beat the buzzer at the end of the period. Simmons’ 22 points were just three shy of the Magic’s franchise record for points in a quarter – 25 by Hall of Famer Tracy McGrady back in 2003 against Denver.
For the game, the 6-foot-6, 195-pound Simmons made 12 of 17 shots, two of four 3-pointers and eight of nine free throws. He added seven rebounds, two assists and a heavily bandaged ankle following the game.
``To be honest, adrenaline was just going and I myself didn’t even really know what was going on and I was just trying to play hard and not have another setback (with the ankle),’’ said Simmons, who easily eclipsed his previous career high of 29 points set earlier this season. ``We got it done tonight and credit to all of these other guys. I was very close (to not playing) because it was a back-to-back, but I didn’t want to let these (Magic) guys down, especially playing championship contenders. So, I didn’t want to let my guys down and I just sucked it up and played.’’
Cleveland lost its second straight game and for a third time in the past four games. The Cavs were trounced 120-88 in Houston on Saturday. They came into Tuesday 26th in the NBA in points allowed per game and in field goal percentage allowed, and those numbers will likely sink even lower after the Magic gutted them for 52.9 percent shooting and 70 points in the paint.
James finished with 25 points, 10 rebounds and five assists, but he notched just nine points in the second half. He did not have an assist or a rebound after halftime and Cleveland was a minus-32 on the scoreboard in his 14 minutes on the floor.
James has a no-trade clause in his contract and he stressed after the game that he has no intention of requesting a trade prior to Thursday’s deal deadline.
``Listen, I am here for the long haul,’’ James said of his intentions to stick it out in Cleveland the rest of the season. ``I am here for this season right now to try to figure out ways for us to still compete. I couldn’t give up on my teammates like that. I couldn’t do that, I just couldn’t do it. We put too much into the game every single day.’’
Cleveland point guard Isaiah Thomas scored 11 points, but he too failed to score in the second half. He even had one shot from the right baseline hit off the side of the backboard. Seconds later, he was beaten defensively by Orlando’s D.J. Augustin for a layup and the Magic held a commanding 104-92 lead midway through the fourth quarter.
Embattled Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue, who has taken much of the blame for his team’s most recent stretch of poor play, spent much of the final three quarters of the game in the locker room and back by the team’s bus because he was battling an illness.
As it turns out, that was probably a more comforting vantage point for the ailing Lue considering what Simmons and the Magic did to the reeling Cavs in the second half. Following Orlando’s 41-22 romp in the third quarter, it then pieced together a 16-0 run in the fourth quarter that turned the game into a laugher. During one stretch from the early stages of the third period to the middle of the fourth, Orlando outscored Cleveland 41-17. Associate head coach Larry Drew coached the Cavs in place of Lue over the final three quarters.
``We’ve matched up pretty well with them so far this year and I feel like we kind of let two games (against Cleveland) get away,’’ said guard Shelvin Mack, whose Magic won the first and final meetings of the season against the Cavs and split the season series. ``We just know that we have to keep playing. We’re starting to trust each other and that’s the big thing. We’re making the extra pass and things are starting to turn out for us.’’
Bismack Biyombo added 11 points and eight rebounds for the Magic, while Elfrid Payton and Mario Hezonja chipped in 10 points. Orlando outscored Cleveland 65-31 in the second half by making 57.5 percent of its shots and holding the Cavs to 30.8 percent. Over the final 24 minutes, Simmons pumped in 29 points – two fewer than Cleveland had as a team.
``It’s just a confidence-builder for all of us and it’s humbling showing what we can do when we play with each other,’’ Simmons said of a Magic team that has beaten Boston, Cleveland, Minnesota, Miami and the Los Angeles Lakers of late.
The Magic’s second-half surge started when they made their first 10 shots of the third quarter. They used a 19-2 burst – with 12 of the points coming from Simmons attacking repeatedly out of pick-and-roll plays – to take their first lead of the night at 78-77.
The second half was diametrically opposite of the first half when the Magic were mostly defenseless. Cleveland did as it wanted in the early going in bolting to a 67-51 lead at intermission. Orlando surrendered 43 points in the first quarter – the most it has given up in one period all season.
Then, almost in the blink of an eye, the game turned around in the second half in favor of the surging Magic. Earlier in the season, the game likely would have gone much differently for the Magic. But, clearly, the Magic are playing like a different team now. So, too, are the Cavs.
``Earlier in the year, when we were down 20, it would turn into a 40-point loss,’’ said Mack, one of the Magic’s reserves who has helped key the surge over the last three weeks. ``We continue to grind, continue to stay positive and play hard. We make sure that you have to play the full 48 minutes against us.’’
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.