By John Denton Jan. 27, 2018
INDIANAPOLIS – Any time a coach or player faces his former team – especially one that got rid of him – it is one of the strongest motivating factors in all of sports, regardless of how much they deny that scenario plays a role in their drive to win.
That storyline certainly dominated Saturday’s game between the Orlando Magic and the Indiana Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse what with coach Frank Vogel and players Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis playing central roles while facing their former teams.
For most of Saturday it looked like Vogel – formerly the highly successful head coach of the Pacers – was about to get his first win against Indiana since taking over in Orlando. However, it was Oladipo and Sabonis – two players dealt away by Orlando in June of 2016 – who got the got the last laugh and haunted Vogel and the Magic once again.
With their Pacers trailing by 10 late in Saturday’s fourth quarter, Oladipo and Sabonis turned up the intensity and combined to score 12 points during a tide-turning 15-0 run that allowed Indiana to surge past Vogel’s Magic and win 114-112.
``Their guys were making plays, Victor was really running the show and Sabonis was rolling to the basket,’’ marveled Vogel afterward. ``It was outstanding playmaking and it was too much from those two guys.’’
Orlando, which dominated play early on and led by as much as 21 points in the first half, had a chance to get the game to overtime or win it in the final seconds, but a confluence of events went wrong to result in a seventh consecutive loss to the Pacers. With Orlando down two and only 7.9 seconds remaining, Aaron Gordon missed a free throw and then misfired intentionally on the second try. Orlando got the rebound and got the ball to guard Jonathon Simmons, who couldn’t connect on a wide-open 3-pointer from the right wing in the final seconds.
``Down the stretch, I had a chance to tie it at the free throw line and I didn’t do that, and I just wish I could get that back for my teammates,’’ said Gordon, who finished with a team-high 22 points, but he didn’t score in the fourth quarter. ``They just started making energy plays. (Oladipo) got hot down the stretch and Lance (Stephenson) did a good job of getting the crowd into it. We just needed a couple of more stops and we missed a lot of free throws.’’
For Vogel, the loss was like adding insult to injury. Congested, running a fever and feeling achy all over, Vogel was so sick on Friday night and Saturday morning that he didn’t know if he would be able to scribble Xs and Os and stalk the sidelines on Saturday. As it turns out, he probably should have skipped the game and stayed in bed.
Orlando (14-34) lost to Indiana (27-23) for a seventh consecutive time. Vogel, Indiana’s head coach from 2011-16, still hasn’t beaten his former team in seven tries since taking over the Magic.
``You can tell when it’s the Pacers, it’s different (with Vogel) and it’s just human, man,’’ said Magic guard Evan Fournier, who scored 21 points and drilled three 3-pointers. ``Of course, as a coach you want to show your (former) team that you can still do good things and I definitely understand (Vogel’s) frustration, for sure.’’
Orlando lost on Saturday because of the brilliance of Oladipo and Sabonis down the stretch. Oladipo, the No. 2 pick of the 2013 NBA Draft by the Magic, continued to torment his former squad. He keyed Indiana’s two victories against Orlando in November and on Saturday he poured in another 24 points – eight of them coming in the game-turning fourth quarter. He added six assists and five rebounds for an Indiana team that was playing for a second time in as many nights.
``Victor didn’t start off great, but he finished great,’’ Gordon said of his former teammate of two seasons. ``He’s an all-star and he’s playing all-star basketball. He did it for them down the stretch.’’
The Magic, which had been off since Tuesday, led 106-96 with 6:15 to play, but Oladipo and Sabonis proceeded to take over the game. They combined to score 12 of Indiana’s next 15 points in the spurt that vaulted them into the lead.
Sabonis, the son of legendary European player Arvydas Sabonis, was dealt by the Magic on draft night in 2016 to the Oklahoma City Thunder – along with Oladipo – for Serge Ibaka. He finished with 17 points and nine rebounds against a Magic team he never actually played for.
Elfrid Payton added 12 points and five assists, while Shelvin Mack had 11 points off the bench. Payton struggled defensively, especially down the stretch.
The Magic came into Saturday still feeling the pain of a 105-99 loss to the Sacramento Kings. Orlando led that game by 11 in the third quarter, but it fell apart defensively down the stretch and suffered a loss that robbed it of the momentum built up following a recent strong stretch. Last week, the Magic pushed Cleveland to the brink and defeated playoff-bound teams Minnesota and Boston.
Vogel said prior to the game that the bitterness of that Sacramento wouldn’t disappear until the Magic captured a victory. He hoped it would come on Saturday in a game that seemed to be set up for Orlando what with the discrepancy in rest for the two teams. Instead, Orlando was saddled with more misery.
``It’s going to be there until the next win. That’s how these things usually work. They linger around until the next, `W,’’’ Vogel lamented on Saturday morning.
Orlando had three days off prior to Saturday’s game and now it will have two more days of rest before playing again. The Magic were scheduled to fly to Houston following the game where it will have Sunday off and practice Tuesday before facing the Rockets on Tuesday. Houston won in Orlando on Jan. 3 despite guard James Harden missing the game with a strained hamstring.
Up 17 after a stellar first half, Orlando had to try and withstand a furious charge by the Pacers in the third period. Indiana started the second half by making four of its first five shots and it ultimately got within 92-84 by the start of the fourth quarter.
Fournier scored 10 points in the third period, including three on a long-range shot in which he turned his ankle after landing on Oladipo’s foot. Gordon had seven in the quarter with four of them coming on thunderous dunks.
``We’ve got to continue moving the ball,’’ Gordon said, referring to what chanced between the first half and the second half. ``On my end, I had four assists in the first half and I didn’t have an assist after that. That’s on me, and down the stretch we had an opportunity too, but I missed those free throws, so it was bad.’’
Orlando played nearly flawless basketball in the first half and led the sluggish Pacers 70-53 at intermission. Clearly benefitted by having three days off to prepare, Orlando shot 60 percent in the first 24 minutes and handed out 13 assists to repeatedly gash the Indiana defense.
The Magic not only never trailed in the first half, but they led by as much as 10 points in the first quarter and by 21 in the second period. The only negative to the first half came when Darren Collison got free for a buzzer-beating 3-pointer that drew the Pacers to within 17.
As it turns out, that last-second shot proved to be a pivotal turning point in the night. After a first half when so much went right, Orlando saw very little transpire in its favor over the final 24 minutes.
The final result allowed Oladipo and Sabonis to get a third straight win this season against the Magic and it kept Vogel winless against the franchise he used to coach.
``They got into us and pressured us and credit them, but we’ve got to be able to play through that stuff,’’ Vogel said. ``That’s what winning on the road is all about. That’s a lesson that we’ve still got to try and learn.’’
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