OAKLAND – For a half, at least, the Orlando Magic were seemingly living a dream-like existence by burying shots from all corners of Oracle Arena and going on the kind of tidal wave-like, momentum-turning runs that the Golden State Warriors usually use to batter foes into submission.
Then, in the time it takes superstar forward Kevin Durant to cross over a defender or all-star guard Klay Thompson to unleash a high-arching 3-pointer, the Magic’s dreams turned into an unsightly nightmare. What seemingly had the potential of being a signature victory for the Magic devolved into a gut-punch of a defeat when the Warriors flipped the script in the second half.
Durant scored 29 of his 49 points in the second half and Thompson pumped in 19 of his 29 in the fourth period as Golden State wiped out an 18-point deficit in the second half of a 116-110 defeat of the crushed Magic.
``In other years it felt like we were trying to steal one here; tonight, it felt like we let one go,’’ said Magic forward Aaron Gordon, who was unable to play in the second half because of lower back stiffness – one of the factors in Durant’s enormous success in the second half.
Orlando (10-11) led Golden State (15-7) 58-40 late in the first half and it was up 76-58 with six minutes remaining in the third period. But the Magic were unable to hang on as Durant assaulted them all throughout the second half with his shot-making prowess and Thompson heated up late after a quiet first three quarters. Thompson made five of seven 3-point shots over the final 12 minutes to lift the short-handed Warriors to their 11th consecutive victory against Orlando.
The Magic appeared to have steadied themselves and led 107-104 with 1:56 to play after D.J. Augustin (nine points and nine assists) hit a 3-pointer and Nikola Vucevic (30 points, 12 rebounds and six assists) sank two free throws. However, Golden State answered back with Thompson 3-pointer and a three-point play by Durant after he was fouled. Thompson and Durant scored 32 of Golden State’s 37 points in the fourth period.
``We just didn’t do a good enough job of slowing them down,’’ said Magic guard Terrence Ross, who had 28 points and four 3-pointers off the bench. ``We knew that (Durant and Thompson) were going to take most of the shots, but it was tough to get them out of rhythm.’’
With Orlando trailing 110-109 and still clinging to hopes of an upset victory, Durant hit a dagger of a 3-pointer that decided it. Afterward, Durant was complimentary of the Magic and what they put the Warriors through to win the final game of their home stand.
``(Orlando’s Jonathan Isaac) got a good contest (on the final 3-pointer), but it still felt good leaving my hands,’’ Durant, who made 16 of 33 shots, four of 10 3-pointers and 13 of 13 free throws. ``Orlando has been playing great and they beat a good Lakers team (on Sunday). (Nikola) Vucevic has been playing great and DJ Augustin has been great. And they’ve got a great coach in Coach (Steve Clifford), drawing up great action (plays).’’
The Magic’s disappointing defeat came less than 24 hours after they beat the Lakers 108-104 in Los Angeles. That victory allowed them to sweep the Lakers for just the second time in the 30-year history and win in Los Angeles for just the sixth time.
History nearly repeated itself on Monday – that is before the Warriors came alive in the second half. Orlando beat the Lakers in Los Angeles and the Warriors in Oakland on back-to-back nights in December of 2012 and the same thing seemingly was about to happen again before the rally by the Warriors. Little did they know back in 2012, but those back-to-back wins would be the Magic’s last wins in Los Angeles and Oakland for a five-year stretch. Orlando played well enough to beat LeBron James on Sunday, but they simply didn’t have enough left in the tank to topple Durant, Thompson and the Warriors on Monday.
``It’s a tough one because I thought we really battled,’’ said Vucevic, who had his second consecutive 30-point effort. ``We obviously had a great first half, but in the second half, with Durant and Klay taking over the game, it was hard. That’s why they are such great players and that’s why they are back-to-back champions. We battled and had a chance, but we just couldn’t stop those two at the end.’’
Isaac, Orlando’s prized second-year forward, pumped in 15 points and grabbed four rebounds. He was left mostly on his own to defend Durant after Gordon went down injured.
``It’s tough and not how we wanted to end the game,’’ Isaac said. ``At halftime we were locked in, but there’s not much you can do when those two guys are making the shots that they were making.’’
Gordon, who guarded Durant well in the early going, left the game in the third quarter with lower back stiffness and did not return. Losing him badly hurt the Magic’s defense against Durant. Gordon missed all six of his shots in 22 minutes of action.
``I tried to play through it as much as I could, but I’ve never really had back spasms before,’’ said Gordon, a native of nearby San Jose, Calif., who had 40 friends and family in an Oracle Center suite for the game. ``I’m going to play through a lot, but I couldn’t move out there. … It’s been building. At halftime I came in here and my back was really tight. I tried to show on a screen and hedge out on a screen and as I was going back it just felt bad.’’
Hoping to build off its strong second half in Sunday’s defeat of the Lakers, Orlando changed its starting lineup on Monday and promoted Jonathon Simmons in place of Wes Iwundu. The guard, who played only mop-up duty in Friday’s loss in Denver, buried his first two 3-point shots in Monday’s game. That was a continuation from Sunday when he had 10 points, four assists and four rebounds in 25 minutes. On Monday, Simmons finished with six points and four assists, but he struggled to keep up with Thompson and Durant as they constantly ran him off screens.
``I watched the game (on a TV set in the locker room) and being able to guard KD, I know how he plays and for somebody like Jon to go out there and it be the first time he’s guarded (Durant), I feel bad,’’ Gordon said. ``I just feel terrible that I wasn’t able to help my team win tonight.’’
Golden State was once again without two-time MVP Stephen Curry (groin strain) and versatile power forward Draymond Green (toe sprain) on Monday night. Curry is slated to practice on Tuesday and Wednesday and could make his return following a 10-game absence on Thursday when the Warriors start an East Coast road trip in Toronto.
After facing the Lakers on Sunday and the Warriors on Monday, the Magic will be off on Tuesday. Orlando will face the Blazers at Portland’s Moda Center on Wednesday (10 p.m. ET, Fox Sports Florida). The Trail Blazers won 128-114 in Orlando on Oct.25 after all-star guard Damian Lillard scored 34 of his 41 points in the second half.
Up 17 points at the half following a breath-taking second-quarter performance, the Magic wobbled badly in the third period, but still hung tough well enough to take an 83-79 edge into the fourth period. The Warriors offense came alive in the third quarter, sparked by Durant’s 16 points in the period. The Magic weren’t nearly as aggressive in third as they were in the second period and it showed in their shooting from the floor (eight of 22), 3-point line (two of seven) and ball-handling (two turnovers).
``You can’t ever feel pretty good against the Warriors because they are too good for that,’’ Vucevic said. ``You have to always know they are going to make a run and try to come back. They’re not going to just give in because they are the World Champs. We knew they are going to make a run and we knew that KD and Klay would be aggressive in the second half. They were and they did what they do every night.’’
Just as they did in Sunday’s defeat of the Lakers, the Magic used a dominant quarter in the guts of the game to build a big lead. Orlando went to halftime up 64-47 thanks to a jaw-dropping 39-21 second-quarter performance. Incredibly, the Magic carved up Golden State’s defense to the tune of 61 percent shooting in the second period and five-of-seven accuracy from the 3-point line.
Golden State got within 48-40 midway through the second period when Vucevic and Ross helped the Magic regain control with a stretch of shooting for the ages. After Vucevic drilled a 3-pointer as he trailed on the fastbreak, Ross sank a 27-footer as he was hit by Durant. He not only hit the free throw to complete the four-point play, but he came back and sank another 3-pointer on the next possession. That 10-0 burst put Orlando up 58-40 and silenced the usually noisy Oracle Arena crowd.
That feel-good first half mostly evaporated in the third quarter when Durant got it rolling and it disappeared completely in the fourth when Thompson started drilling 3-pointer after 3-pointer after curling off screens. The Magic, just like the noisy crowd inside of Oracle Arena, knew what was coming and Durant and Thompson were still able to raise their games to stratospheric levels late to allow Golden State to escape victorious.
``It felt like we were doing just enough to stay above water, and I’ve got to watch how we broke down because looking back it’s a blur,’’ Ross said. ``We’ve got to stay solid, capitalize on 50/50 balls and get every loose one (when the Warriors were making their run). We’ve got to stay together and weather that storm. We did OK for the most part, but it wasn’t enough.
``When you are playing the defending champs and they have one of the best players in the world (in Durant) and he just puts that team on his back, that’s tough,’’ Ross added. ``But that’s just how it goes sometimes.’’
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