By John Denton Jan. 18, 2018
CLEVELAND – Of all things, two jump-ball calls – one the Orlando Magic desperately wanted and one that they certainly didn’t want – proved to be the difference between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Magic on Thursday night.
When Orlando’s Shelvin Mack appeared to have tied up Cavs’ point guard Isaiah Thomas with 11.2 seconds remaining, the Magic hoped they were in position to escape Cleveland with an epic comeback for a victory.
However, referees ruled that Mack committed a foul on the play, sending Thomas to the line for two free throws that proved to be the difference in a 104-103 Cleveland defeat of Orlando at Quicken Loans Arena.
Orlando (13-32) had a shot at still escaping with the victory, but Elfrid Payton couldn’t convert a layup try in the final seconds.
Magic coach Frank Vogel decided not to call timeout on the play in hopes of preventing Cleveland (27-17) from substituting. Payton got the defensive switch that he wanted and got past Cleveland center Tristan Thompson, but his layup rimmed out.
``I feel like 99 times out of 100 I made that shot,’’ said Payton, who scored a team-high 19 points by exploiting the defense of Thomas most of the night. ``We knew they were going to make that switch and I just wanted to make a play and get to the rim. We did a good job of going straight up. I knew I was going to be able to get it around him, but I was just off a little bit.
After Payton miss bounded around several times and went out, officials reviewed the play and decided there was an inadvertent whistle on the play. That resulted in a mid-court jump ball with 0.2 remaining, meaning that the Magic would not be able to score in any manner. Aaron Gordon actually swished a 45-footer, but it came following a jump-ball violation and too late for the final buzzer.
The jump ball that Vogel was more concerned about was the one that wasn’t called with 11.2 seconds to play. Instead, crew chief referee Kane Fitzgerald determined that Mack committed a foul on the play, sending Thomas to the free throw line for what would be the game-deciding free throws.
``I’m disappointed for our guys because I love the way they fought in the second half and I feel like they deserved a victory, but we didn’t get the breaks down the stretch,’’ Vogel said. ``I thought it was a clean tie-up (between Mack and Thomas), but we’ve got to look at the tape further or what not. It’s just tough to lose a game that way, but I was proud of how our guys competed.’’
Added Mack: ``It was very frustrating, especially you know with the way that it ended. Ending with a jump ball with 0.2 seconds, that’s my first time seeing that. That’s very frustrating, but you know, it’s a 48-minute game and it doesn’t just come down to the last few possessions. There are a lot of things throughout the game that we can look at and (change).’’
Orlando seemed poised to pull off one of its largest comeback wins in franchise history when Mack converted a short floater in the lane with 31.2 seconds remaining to give the Magic a 103-102 lead. Mack, who was playing in place of the suspended Arron Afflalo, finished with 10 points on five-of-five shooting.
On the next possession, the Magic struggled to get a rebound that would have sealed it and the Cavs got the ball to Thomas, who tried to split the defense but collided with Mack. A foul, instead of a jump ball was called, and Thomas was sent to the free throw line for the game-deciding points.
``I was just sitting in my game and he drove at me,’’ Mack said. ``I feel like I just made a basketball play. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see until (Friday) and get the two-minute report.’’
Orlando trailed by as much as 23 points in the second quarter, but turned the game around with a dominant performance in the third quarter. Time and again, the Magic hung tough in the fourth and put themselves in position to potentially win the game down the stretch. However, fate would not shine on them late in the night in a game that could have gone either direction for Orlando and Cleveland.
``It’s incredibly frustrating because there were a couple of plays down the stretch that could have gone either way,’’ said Magic forward Aaron Gordon, who had 17 points but missed a 3-pointer with 45 seconds to go that could have given Orlando a two-point lead. ``We didn’t lose the game down the stretch; we lost the game in the first quarter and a little bit of the second. To battle back like that, I’m really proud of us. A couple of things go differently or the ball bounces differently, we come out with the win. Pretty frustrating.’’
After Thomas’ free throws, Orlando chose not to call a timeout and Payton drove hard for a layup that rimmed out. Vogel liked the look that his team got from Payton, who finished with 19 points.
``We got a layup at the front of the rim to win it, and those are the breaks,’’ Vogel said. ``It was a right-handed layup right in front of the rim. Absolutely (he liked the shot) … by our best offensive player of the night. (Payton) is the guy that we wanted to go with the matchup that we wanted, and we got right in front of the rim.’’
Added Payton: ``It was tightly contested, but I feel like I will make that shot 99 times out of 100. It was off just a tad bit.’’
Evan Fournier added 17, while Jonathon Simmons chipped in 16 points.
Thomas had 21 for the Cavs, which had lost four straight games and nine of 12 prior to Thursday. James finished with 16 points and six assists.
``You’ve got to make big shots to get a `W’ like this, but our guys fought the whole second half, moved the basketball and played with great spirit,’’ Vogel said. ``I was proud of their performance.’’
The Magic found out about two hours prior to tipoff that the NBA had suspended Afflalo for two games for his role in a fight with Nemanja Bjelica on Tuesday night. The suspension, which Afflalo will not appeal, barred him from being at Quicken Loans Arena and he won’t be allowed to play on Sunday afternoon in Boston (tipoff at 1 p.m.).
Orlando was coming off a stirring 108-102 defeat of the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday night at the Amway Center. In that game, Orlando held a huge advantage on the glass, shared the ball well offensively and fought on the defensive end to snap a seven-game losing streak.
Thursday’s game was the third of the season between the Magic and Cavs. Orlando won in Cleveland in a rout in October to end a 17-game losing streak to the Cavs, but Cleveland got revenge in Orlando two weeks ago.
This meeting could have been extremely memorable had a few breaks gone differently for the Magic.
``We started getting some stops, we were running in transition and we got (Gordon) going and (Simmons) started getting to the foul line,’’ Payton said. ``We just started getting some stops and the offense started coming.’’
As bad as the Magic were in the first half – when they trailed by as much as 23 points and found themselves in a 20-point hole at intermission – they were equally as good in the third period. A 33-13 burst got the game tied at 80 and the Magic headed into the fourth period trailing just 84-80 following the stellar stretch of basketball.
Incredibly, Orlando opened the second half by hitting 10 of 13 shots – including sinking all three of its 3-point shots – and it knotted the score at 80 when Simmons sank two free throws. In outscoring Cleveland 33-17 in the third, the Magic drilled 13 of 21 shots. Simmons (10 points), Gordon (eight points) and Payton (six points) played well in the period, leading the Magic offense and getting the team back into the game.
``It was just about our energy and defense,’’ Mack said. ``I know that, at one time, we got seven or eight straight stops. When we do that, we’re able to run and use our athleticism and get out and go.’’
The first half went about as poorly as possible for the Magic, who found themselves in a discouraging 67-47 hole at intermission. Not only did the Magic turn the ball over eight times (leading to 10 Cleveland points), their defense also surrendered nine 3-pointers in the game’s first 24 minutes.
``It felt really good to (play well in the third quarter), but we’ve got to do it over a full 48 minutes and not just do it in stints and runs,’’ Mack said. ``I feel like we’ve got a chance to be a good team and get some momentum going.
``I think we’re slowly starting to figure things out,’’ Mack added. ``It’s been tough with a lot of injuries and guys in and out, but we’re slowly starting to get a groove with one another and give ourselves a chance to win. That’s all you can ask for in the NBA – having a chance to win with two or three games ago and see what happens.’’
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