Postgame Report: Magic vs. Cavs

By John Denton
Jan. 6, 2018

ORLANDO – Every time the inspired Orlando Magic strung together a burst of baskets and looked as if they were about to make a move on Saturday night, long-time nemeses LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers flexed their muscles and put their imprint on the game.

Some 10 weeks from the early-season night when the Magic surprisingly throttled the Cavs, James and Cleveland’s bevy of 3-point shooters made sure there would be no repeat at the Amway Center.

Cleveland drilled seven of its first nine 3-point shots of the second half, hit 15 for the game and rode a 33-point, 10-rebound, nine-assist performance from James to dispatch the gutsy Magic 131-127.

``He’s a great player, he reads your mistakes and he makes you pay for it every time,’’ said Magic center Bismack Biyombo, who got switched onto James with 2:53 to play and surrendered a 3-pointer to the four-time MVP. ``We played with great energy, but we just didn’t get the payoff (with a victory).’’

A noisy, sellout crowd of 18,997 saw the Magic (12-28) challenge the Cavaliers (26-13) throughout, but Orlando could never re-take the lead because of James’ ability to find his teammates for open shots. Just as the Magic drilled 17 3-pointers in their Oct. 21 defeat of the Cavs, Cleveland won this one with its dead-eye accuracy from beyond the arc.

The Magic actually had two looks at 3-pointers in the final seconds that could have narrowed the game, but couldn’t convert. Orlando hit 15 of 34 3-pointers in the game, but missed a couple of tries in the fourth quarter that could have truly made the Cavaliers sweat.

``We played hard and we didn’t quit on the game, but I feel like we shouldn’t have been in a 20-point hole,’’ Magic coach Frank Vogel said. ``The way we came out in the third quarter flat was very disappointing and we’ve got to honor the fundamentals of the game, especially on the defensive end, getting back on transition and hitting your man (boxing out) on a shot. When we continue to have breakdowns like that, we’re going to continue to lose games.’’

Aaron Gordon scored 24 of his 30 points in the second half to keep Orlando within striking distance before fouling out with 1:21 to play. Orlando had gotten to within 126-121 when Gordon turned the ball over and grabbed at James, resulting in his sixth foul. Two James free throws pushed Cleveland’s lead back to seven points, but the Magic kept coming thanks to hard drives by Elfrid Payton, who poured in 20 points by making eight of 13 shots.

``I liked the fight that we played with, but we’ve got to play with that the whole game for us to compete and make a push,’’ Gordon said. ``My teammates put their trust in me, but we’re all just trying to make the right play.’’

Said Vogel of the play of Gordon, who made 13 of 26 shots, but missed seven of his eight 3-point tries in 31 minutes: ``That’s probably my fault because I didn’t give him a rest at the quarter break, which I thought about, but we were down (20) and you’ve got to go to something that maybe can give you a spark. We left him in there and he looked like he got fatigued. … The kid played with great heart, great intensity, great resolve and really kept us in the game.’’

Evan Fournier made just five of 14 shots, but four of them were 3-pointers and he finished with 18 points. Mario Hezonja chipped in 16 points and 10 rebounds while starting in place of Jonathon Simmons (back spasms). Rookie Wesley Iwundu tied his career high with 12 points.

``We definitely showed the fight tonight and guys got after it,’’ said Iwundu, who made six of seven shots and chipped in five rebounds, three assists and two steals. ``We were a different team tonight, we competed and the vibe was good. Some things didn’t go our way, but at the end of the day we wanted that one bad and we showed it.’’

However, it wouldn’t be enough to keep the Magic from dropping their fourth straight game and 13th in the past 14 outings. When the Magic last played Cleveland in mid-October, that victory started a three-game winning streak. That night, Orlando featured a starting lineup of Nikola Vucevic, Jonathan Isaac, Terrence Ross, D.J. Augustin and Fournier. Because of yet another spate of injuries, Fournier and Augustin were the only players available on Saturday for the Magic.

Five different Cleveland players drilled 3-pointers, including six from Kevin Love (27 points). Isaiah Thomas, who played his second game following a long layoff due to his hip injury, scored 19 and hit two 3-pointers. James drilled four 3-pointers, the final one coming with 2:53 to play after Orlando had pulled to within 121-116. James ran a pick-and-roll play to get Bismack Biyombo switched onto him and he sized up the center before drilling the long three.

James made 13 of 23 shots, four of seven from 3-point range and five of seven from the free throw line.

In a matter of two weeks, Orlando has faced the NBA leaders in 3-pointers (Houston), the team that has made the second-most threes (Cleveland) and the team that attempts the second-most 3-pointers per game (Brooklyn). Throw in the 3-point reliant Detroit Pistons and the Magic have faced some of the NBA’s top teams from deep in this most recent stretch.

Thomas, who missed the first three months of the season with a hip injury suffered late last season while playing for the Boston Celtics, started for the first time as a Cavalier on Saturday. He struggled to find any rhythm at all in the opening half, but started the third period with a flurry.

The Magic ended a 17-game losing streak to the Cavaliers on Oct. 21 when they made 17 3-pointers, led by as much as 37 points and won 114-93. The lopsided victory also ended a streak of 18 straight losses to James-led teams from Miami and Cleveland.

Orlando will hit the road on Monday for a three-game stretch outside of Central Florida. The Magic will play in Dallas on Tuesday and in Milwaukee on Wednesday for a difficult back-to-back set of games. They are 4-10 this season in back-to-backs – 2-5 on both the first and second nights. The trip will end on Friday in Washington, D.C. against the rival Wizards.

Within three at halftime, Orlando disappointingly surrendered the first eight points of the third quarter. They would respond with seven straight points right back at Cleveland, but what they could not account for were the seven 3-pointers the Cavaliers drilled in the period. The Magic couldn’t counter on their end and stared up at a 107-87 lead as they headed into the fourth quarter.

Orlando showed plenty of fight in the fourth quarter, pumping in 40 points. However, the Magic’s lull in intensity in the third period cost them the game. What irked Vogel the most was that Orlando was outrebounded 16-10 in the third quarter with seven of those boards coming off the offensive glass. As they so often do, those offensive rebounds led to 3-pointers and Cleveland scored 13 second-chance points just after halftime.

``I think we had two situations where we didn’t box out our man and they led to threes. Those things are frustrating because they are things we can control,’’ Vogel said. ``We talk about (rebounding) every day and we work on it a ridiculous amount and it’s what has to change for us to become a winning team. We’ve got to box out our man every shot. It’s an elementary-school fundamental that we continue to break down on and it hurts 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.

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