NEW YORK – The paper-thin difference between victory and defeat for the Orlando Magic on Wednesday night could be boiled down to the tale of two tip-ins.
Painfully, neither went in the favor of center Nikola Vucevic on a night when the Magic had themselves in perfect position to take down the streaking Brooklyn Nets.
Vucevic’s tip-in of an Evan Fournier missed layup with 2.5 seconds remaining briefly made it seem as if the Magic had gotten themselves even with the Nets, but referees wiped out the bucket because of a goaltending call. The referees went to the replay monitors, but they showed Vucevic touching the ball while still in the cylinder and the basket was disallowed.
That came some 47 seconds after Vucevic accidentally tipped in a basket for the Nets while for fighting for a rebound in traffic. It was that kind of hard-luck night for the Magic, which fell 114-110 to the Nets at Barclays Center.
Making matters even worse for Orlando (20-28), it was their second loss in five nights to surging Brooklyn (26-23), which has won five in a row and 18 of 25 to flip its season around completely.
On this night, all that mattered to the Magic were the tip-ins that were disallowed and counted that cost them a much-needed victory. Vucevic, who was brilliant again with 21 points and 14 rebounds for his 32nd double-double of the season, was hardly to blame, tipping a ball a split-second early that was likely rimming out for what could have been the tying basket.
``It’s a tough one for sure,’’ Vucevic said. ``It had started to come off (the rim). It rolled slowly over the rim and I thought it had already kind of come out. It’s really just a split-second play there because the ball was right there and I felt like if I had come down, the other guy would have batted it. I was hoping the ball was outside (the rim) enough, but it wasn’t, and we had a goal-tending.
``And the play (seconds) before I tipped the ball into their basket,’’ a frustrated Vucevic added. ``It just happens, but this is a tough one.’’
Trailing 112-110 with 15.2 seconds to play, Orlando got the ball into the hands of Fournier, its best late-game scorer all season. Fournier got all the way to the hoop against Brooklyn center Jarrett Allen, but his lefty layup rimmed out, setting the stage for Vucevic’s tip that was wiped out.
Fournier, who has made two game-winning shots this season for the Magic, also missed a seven-foot floater five days ago against Brooklyn that could have forced overtime.
``I haven’t seen the play, but I trust (Vucevic’s) judgement; if he thought it was going out, then it was going out,’’ said Fournier, who finished with nine points on four-of-11 shooting. ``Yep, I gotta make that.’’
Brooklyn has become one of the NBA’s best stories largely because of the one-two punch of point guards D’Angelo Russell and Spencer Dinwiddie. Those two guards have had the Magic seeing double for the past week and Orlando certainly won’t mind having a break of 10 days before having to try and figure out how to stop the two high-scoring guards again.
Dinwiddie scored 29 points and Russell added 25 points and 10 assists.
The Magic led 104-102 with 4:30 to play, but its defense once again was no match for Russell, who had burned the Magic for 40 points and eight 3-pointers five days ago in a Brooklyn victory in Central Florida. This time, Russell drove to set up a Jarrett Allen layup and seconds later drilled a free throw line jumper out of a pick-and-roll set.
Dinwiddie, a top candidate for the NBA’s Sixth Man of the year award, tied a Nets’ franchise record with his 10th 25-point performance off the bench. He made 10 of 17 shots. Russell made nine of 21 shots, but he added three 3-pointers and burned the Magic defense with the pass when it paid too much attention to his rim runs.
``The most important thing you can have in any NBA game is a guy who can go get a shot or creates help, so his teammates get a shot,’’ Magic coach Steve Clifford said of the havoc caused by Dinwiddie’s drives and Russell’s shooting. ``It’s the number one thing you want.’’
Brooklyn (26-23) pushed its lead to 109-104, but the Magic would not relent. They got within 111-110 on two free throws by Terrence Ross with 21 seconds to play. Rodions made just one of two free throws with 15.9 seconds to play, giving Orlando one last chance at either tying or winning the game. Alas, Fournier’s layup rimmed out and Vucevic’s tip-in was disallowed.
Vucevic was in the center of a couple of other controversial and tough-luck plays late in the night. With Orlando trailing 109-106 and 90 seconds to play, the All-Star candidate was whistled for a charge when Brooklyn’s Joe Harris barely got his feet outside of the restricted area circle. Seconds later, Vucevic accidentally tipped in a basket that was credited to DeMarre Carroll.
``The charge was a great charge taken Harris. It was a great hustle play and he got right in front of me,’’ Vucevic said. ``I didn’t think he was going to get there in time, so that’s why I went for it. Sometimes, it just happens like that. We still had our chances and had plays (to win it), but we didn’t. So, it is what it is.’’
Point guard D.J. Augustin added two 3-pointers and 19 points, while Bronx native Jonathan Isaac played one of his most complete games of the season with 16 points, four rebounds, three blocked shots and four 3-pointers.
``We got great looks on the offensive end late in the game, but they just didn’t go in the way that we needed,’’ Isaac said. ``Absolutely, it’s a game even late that I thought we were going to win just with how we were playing. WE just weren’t able to make the plays that we needed.
Orlando shot 42.7 percent from the floor and made 11 of 34 3-pointers, while Brooklyn shot 47.8 percent with 10 3-pointers.
Jonathon Simmons added 13 off the Magic bench. Carroll had 19 and three 3-pointers off the Brooklyn bench. Clifford was happy with the way that the 21-year-old Isaac played, especially how he displayed the confidence in drilling two corner 3-pointers and two from the top of the arc.
``To me, I thought he was assertive, and he was really good at both ends of the floor,’’ Clifford said of Isaac, who made five of 12 shots and four of seven 3-pointers. ``That was one of the better games that he’s played. He was really, really good.’’
Orlando got forward Aaron Gordon back on Wednesday after he missed the previous 2 ½ games with a back injury. In nearly 25 minutes, he had 10 points, six rebounds and a blocked shot. Gordon’s back locked up on him in the third quarter of Orlando’s game against Brooklyn last Friday. Gordon stayed in the game briefly and buried a 3-pointer that put the Magic up by 11 points with 10 minutes to play. However, after Gordon went out of the game and was unable to return, Brooklyn rallied behind the torrid shooting of Russell.
``To me, he just didn’t have his rhythm all night at either end of the floor,’’ Clifford said of Gordon. ``He even struggled defensively. I mean, we weren’t going to play him his normal minutes, but when you’re playing as much as we are and you miss days like we did, it’s not about lack of effort, but he just looked off to me out there.’’
Orlando was playing on Wednesday just two days after toppling the Hawks in Atlanta. That victory not only ended a three-game losing streak, but it came after center Vucevic scolded the team two nights earlier following home defeats to Brooklyn and Milwaukee on consecutive nights.
The Magic will be back at the Amway Center on Friday when they host the Washington Wizards. It will be the third time this season that the two Southeast Division rivals have played with both winning on their home floors in November.
With the game tied at the break, the Magic and Nets traded haymakers in the third period and neither team was able to get much breathing room from the other. Orlando looked as it might take a lead into the fourth when Gordon dunked for an 83-81 lead. However, Russell and Dinwiddie responded with 3-pointers and Dinwiddie had another layup in transition to give the Nets an 89-86 edge going into the fourth period.
While the Magic got plenty of production from Vucevic (17), Augustin (17) and Isaac (16) in the first three periods, they could get a handle on slowing down Russell and Dinwiddie. Dinwiddie had 23 points through three periods with his only five misses coming from 3-point range, while Russell scored 19 in the game’s first 36 minutes.
The Magic now have 10 days before facing the Nets again – the next time at the Amway Center – and trying to figure out how to slow down Dinwiddie and Russell. Twice, they have failed in trying to slow them down and twice it has resulted in heartbreaking defeats.
``Listen, he’s shooting a pull-up two, while leaning, and that’s a tough shot,’’ Clifford of Russell’s shot that gave the Nets a 106-104 lead that they would not surrender the rest of the game. ``He made one like that in Orlando, also. You watch the teams that are more aggressive with him (trapping pick-and-roll plays), they’re four-on-three. He had 10 assists tonight too, so he’s a great passer too.’’
Added Fournier: ``We made mistakes on 50/50 balls, offensive rebounds, fouls, back cuts from the corners – those are the things that you can take away. Guys like Russell and Dinwiddie are going to make plays in this league and make tough shots, and sometimes you’ve got to live with it. But you can’t give up (other easy baskets).’’
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