SAN ANTONIO – Their pride and toughness called into question following a particularly ugly loss two nights earlier, an angered Orlando Magic came out with an attacking, hit-first mentality on Sunday.
Then, they proceeded to hit everything in their sights. Layups, 3-pointers and clutch shots after a once-lopsided game surprisingly tightened up in the fourth quarter. Most importantly, the Magic hit the veteran-laden San Antonio Spurs hard enough on Sunday to get a much-needed victory.
Still stung by a 25-point loss on Friday, Orlando moved the ball and shot it better than at any point this season and played with the kind of ferocity that has been lacking for a couple of weeks in a 117-110 defeat of the Spurs at AT&T Center.
``We were being aggressive and playing together, but all of that was because of our approach,’’ said Magic guard Evan Fournier, who had 16 points, seven assists and two 3-pointers. ``When you come into a game where you’ve lost four in a row and you’re on the road against the Spurs, you have that warrior mentality of `we need this game! we need this game!’ That’s how we should play every game. You can’t wait until you are in a bad position to play like this.’’
Orlando (3-6) dominated the early going but had to sweat it out after seeing a 26-point edge shrink to five with 1:41 to play. However, the Magic hung tough in the late going and snapped a four-game losing streak by gashing the Spurs (6-3) for 51.1 percent shooting and 12 3-pointers. The Magic got contributions from all over the roster to help them win in San Antonio for just the second time in the past 10 years.
``Having a team that wants to win is the most important thing and I do believe that we want that,’’ Magic coach Steve Clifford said of his team’s response from Friday’s 25-point loss. ``Again, you have to be able to work toward what (the Spurs) do – they play the same every night. … We’ve shown, in stretches, where we can do that, but we’ve got to get to playing the same way every night.’’
The Magic trailed 11-8 in the early going and then proceeded to dominate the game for the next 30 minutes of action. Orlando was up as much as 12 points in the first quarter, led by nine at intermission and pushed its advantage to as much as 26 in what looked like would be a runaway fourth quarter.
San Antonio made a late push, cutting a 103-77 deficit to 113-108 with 1:41 to play. The Spurs got back in it with a 27-10 burst at one point, but Orlando was able to ultimately turn back the rally. San Antonio, which shot 42 percent with 12 3-pointers, got 25 points from guard DeMar DeRozan, but it wouldn’t be enough on this night.
The Magic came into Sunday wanting to make amends for Friday’s 120-95 home loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. Clifford was critical of his team following that loss, saying that it was the first time all season that the squad didn’t bring the proper attitude to the game.
Clearly, that poor performance helped to sharpen the Magic’s focus heading into Sunday’s showdown.
``Nobody wants to lose like (the Magic did on Friday), especially at home. We work so hard every day and to come out and play like that at home, it sucks,’’ said Magic point guard, D.J. Augustin, who had 18 points and seven assists. ``So, for us to bounce back like we did tonight, it just shows our mental strength and how much we want to improve.’’
Among the biggest reasons for the Magic’s big bounce-back game was a bounce-back performance by forward Aaron Gordon. Two nights after being especially passive in a four-point, three-rebound showing against the Los Angeles Clippers, Gordon did a little bit of everything on Sunday. He contributed 26 points and eight rebounds and drilled four 3-pointers.
``That was a little more normal for me tonight,’’ Gordon said, referring to his forgettable play on Friday. ``Inevitably, everybody has bad games, but you just hope that you avoid the catastrophic games. But if those happen, they happen.
``Oh I still torture myself after a bad game – mentally and psychologically,’’ Gordon added. ``It takes a second to bounce back, but tonight I showed I can bounce back.’’
Six Magic players reached double figures in scoring. Terrence Ross, Orlando’s most effective reserve all season, scored 17 points and hit three 3-pointers. Nikola Vucevic (13 points and eight rebounds) also played well and capped his night with a layup that all but sealed the victory with 1:41 remaining.
Magic rookie Mo Bamba, who returned to the University of Texas on Saturday where he played for one season, scored 12 points and added a career-best 11 rebounds for the first double-double of his NBA career.
Said Gordon of Orlando’s No. 6 pick from last June’s NBA Draft: ``He’s a tremendous talent. He keeps getting better and better. He’s wise beyond his years.’’
Clifford might have had something to do with Gordon being more aggressive. Clifford took some of the blame for Gordon getting just five shots on Friday and talked to the forward about ways he could inject himself more into the game.
``He can’t take five shots. I can take care of some of that with play calls, but he’s got to be more involved,’’ Clifford said prior to tipoff on Sunday. ``I told him was that I’ve got to help him. But his best games last year were a result of his energy level off the ball, finding ways to get to the basket and his open spot-ups. … I think his decision-making has been solid, but he’s got to get more than five shots. That makes no sense.’’
Orlando was without forward Jonathan Isaac because of a sprained right ankle suffered on Friday. Isaac, who saw his rookie season marred by a series of ankle injuries, was hurt on Friday after accidentally stepping onto the foot of a foe, causing his ankle to twist. He got treatment on his ankle on Saturday and Sunday and the team is hopeful that he will be able to return by Monday’s home game.
Orlando will be back in action on Monday night when it faces the struggling Cleveland Cavaliers at the Amway Center. For the Magic, it will be their second back-to-back set of games for the season. They were 0-2 in their first back-to-game in games against Charlotte and Philadelphia.
``This is a great feeling to get a great feeling on the road against a great team that is playing well, but now we have to build upon it,’’ Augustin said, referring to Monday’s game. ``This (win in San Antonio) is great for our confidence and we’ve just got to play the same way (on Monday).’’
Up nine at the half, Orlando turned back a San Antonio push with an 8-0 burst of its own in the third quarter. The Magic’s steadiness throughout the third period thanks to strong play by Bamba and Ross allowed them to take a commanding 91-74 edge into the fourth.
The Magic played their best half of basketball this season in the first 24 minutes and led the Spurs 63-54 at intermission. Not only did Orlando shell San Antonio’s defense for 57.1 percent shooting and four 3-pointers, it also smothered the Spurs to the tune of 41 percent shooting and five turnovers early on. Outside of DeRozan (19 points, four rebounds and three assists), the Spurs had little going offensively in the first half.
Orlando was dialed in offensively from the start and drilled 11 of its first 15 shots. By the time the Magic had made 16 of the first 25 field goal attempts, they had a somewhat surprising 41-28 lead on San Antonio.
``I just think it was about our approach because we had good intensity and good concentration,’’ Clifford said. ``Until the fourth quarter our defense was really good. We shout the ball well, we were inside/out and it was by far the best game that we’ve played, obviously.’’
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