By John Denton Dec. 30, 2017
ORLANDO – Soon, the clock will strike midnight, 2017 will dissolve into 2018, and hundreds of millions of people across America will sing, ``Auld Lang Syne’’ – an ode to old acquaintances being forgotten.
The Orlando Magic wish they were so lucky. Odds are they won’t soon forget what happened on Saturday when their Sunshine State acquaintances, the Miami Heat, came alive in the second half to rob them of what seemed to be headed toward a promising win most of the night.
The Magic saw a dreamy first half turn into a nightmarish second half as Tyler Johnson and Goran Dragic battered them with a bevy of baskets and helped Miami storm all the way back from 18 points down to beat Orlando 117-111 at a noisy Amway Center.
Johnson scored 22 of his season-best 31 points in the third quarter to jump-start Miami’s offense. Dragic did the rest with 14 of his 25 points in the fourth period. When Miami (19-17) outscored Orlando (12-25) 67-45 over the final 24 minutes it allowed the Heat to crush the Magic’s hopes of what would have been their biggest victory in weeks. Instead, Orlando was left with nothing but frustration.
``It was mostly (the Heat) scoring every time down the floor,’’ Magic coach Frank Vogel said. ``They lit us up.’’
Whereas the first half belonged to the Magic – they scored 64 points, shot 67.5 percent and drilled seven 3-pointers – it was the second half that was dominated by Miami. Over the final 24 minutes, the Heat shelled Orlando’s defense for 67 points, 62.8 percent shooting and eight 3-pointers.
``Very disappointing. Very disappointed,’’ said Magic point guard Elfrid Payton, who had eight points and 13 assists, but turned the ball over six times. ``Another game where we played well, but we just didn’t play a complete game.’’
The Magic led 68-50 seconds into the third quarter and took a 92-86 edge into the fourth period, but it lost the lead for the first time since the first quarter when Dragic nailed a floater in traffic with 2:03 to play. Turnovers on each side of that basket did the Magic in and it was Dragic once again with 1:35 on a layup that put the Heat up four.
Aaron Gordon, who was spectacular all night with 39 points and five 3-pointers, got the Magic back within one with three free throws, but Johnson hit a back-breaking 3-pointer from the right wing with 59 seconds to play to doom Orlando. Gordon got a good look at a 3-pointer that could have tied the game with 15 seconds remaining, but the shot was off and the Magic were left to try and stomach one of their most crushing losses of the season.
``I loved the look and I was too open and I didn’t think I was going to be that open,’’ said Gordon, who made 14 of 22 shots, five of 11 3-pointers and six of seven free throws. ``It was a great play draw-up and it means the world that Frank (Vogel) put that trust in me. The next time I get that opportunity I’m going to knock it down.’’
Orlando’s loss to Miami was its second one of the week and the second time that the Magic allowed the Heat to wipe out a double-digit deficit in the second half. The Magic rebounded from that defeat with a win against Detroit on Thursday and they were seeking their first consecutive victories since Nov. 8 and 10 on Saturday.
Instead, it was Miami – which had been shelled a night earlier in a lopsided loss at home by Brooklyn – that came alive in the second half and won.
``It was as ugly as it can get in the first half again and it started to look like it was going in the same direction again,’’ Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. ``It looked like a misprint in the first half – 24 (points) in transition – but our guys gathered themselves.’’
Orlando had hoped to duplicate what the Nets did to Miami a night earlier by running back at the Heat. Orlando used its 24 fastbreak points to build a 66-50 lead at the half – and edge that would eventually grow to 18 points seconds into the third. But the Magic were unable to run when Johnson scorched the nets in the third period to the tune of 22 points by making his first 10 shots of the period.
``It’s disappointing, man, because I thought we fought and played with the right energy, but we just had a really bad defensive second half,’’ said Magic forward Evan Fournier, who finished with 23 points, six rebounds and three assists. ``When you have to pick the ball up out of the net, you can’t run. So, this was a tough one.’’
Orlando lost despite shooting 54.3 percent from the floor and drilling 12 of 27 3-pointers. Miami made 51.1 percent and also hit 12 3-pointers.
Jonathon Simmons added 12 points and three 3-pointers, while Bismack Biyombo played well inside in a second straight game with 10 points, 10 rebounds and four blocked shots.
None of that mattered when the Heat made 27 of 43 shots (62.8 percent) and eight of 12 3-pointers (66.7 percent).
``Yeah, it hurts,’’ Vogel admitted. ``Our guys played their hearts out and played with great effort. I felt like (the Magic) deserved to win. But you’ve got to get stops down the stretch and we weren’t able to do that.’’
The Magic will hit the road on Sunday for frigid New York City where they will face the Brooklyn Nets on New Year’s night. On Sunday night, the Magic won’t be far at all from Times Square where thousands of patrons will watch the ball drop in Times Square and belt out the lyrics to ``Auld Lang Syne’’ about old acquaintances being forgotten.
Sadly, it will be some time before the Magic forget about what their acquaintances from South Florida did to them on Saturday. To be sure, 2017 was anything but kind to the Magic and they know full well that 2018 won’t be better unless they can find ways to close out winnable games like Saturday’s.
``It’s no fresh start because it’s the same season. Nothing different with the year – 2017 or 18,’’ Fournier said. ``If we’re going to keep playing the way that we’ve played the last two games, we’re going to be alright. We know what we’ve got to do – we’ve just got to finish the job.’’
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.