Oladipo's Return Helps Spark Magic to Victory
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By John Denton
Nov. 14, 2014
ORLANDO – Somewhat sloppy and sluggish early in the game, the Orlando Magic got an incredible lift from the emotional return of standout guard Victor Oladipo on Friday night.
But more specifically, this is where Oladipo exerted his biggest influence on Friday night’s game and sent an electrifying charge through his Magic mates. Oladipo, who was playing in his first game since last April because of some hard-luck injury woes, repeatedly got the ball at the end of the shot clock, used his blinding speed to blow by defenders and create offense for Orlando seemingly out of thin air.
Still shaking off rust, playing his way into shape and adjusting to the hard-plastic mask he’s being forced to wear to protect his surgically repaired face, Oladipo made just three of 10 shots, but got to the free throw line eight times (with six makes) to score 13 points and spark Orlando to a 101-85 defeat of Milwaukee.
``Words can’t describe how I was feeling checking into the game and words can’t describe how I was feeling when I got checked out. Man, it just feels good to play basketball again,’’ an emotional Oladipo said. ``Now we’ve just got to rack up some wins, keep it going and not be satisfied.’’
Playing before an Amway Center crowd of 15,947 fans, Oladipo evoked plenty of ooohs and ahhs in his first game of the season. Most importantly, his return woke up a sleep-walking Magic team and he helped produce a second straight victory for Orlando (4-6).
How about this for an immediate impact from Orlando’s masked man: During Oladipo’s 25 minutes on the floor, the Magic were an impressive plus-22 on the scoreboard. His attacking nature also helped the Magic have a plus-13 advantage in free throw attempts – a rarity this season for the Magic.
``The immediate picture that you see painted for us with Victor being able to play is the penetration level and 27 free throws by us tonight,’’ said coach Jacque Vaughn, who was delighted to get Oladipo back and get the Magic back closer to whole. ``That ability to get downhill himself and to cause the defense to collapse – we need that.’’
In another solid display of team basketball, Oladipo had plenty of help in the form of Tobias Harris (26 points and 10 rebounds), Nikola Vucevic (18 points and nine rebounds) and Evan Fournier (15 points and three 3-pointers).
Not to be overlooked, rookie forward Aaron Gordon (eight points) was an absolute difference-maker early in the game and was a plus-19 during his first 13 minutes on the floor. Gordon outplayed Milwaukee’s Jabari Parker – the No. 2 pick in last June’s NBA Draft – who had just six points in 26 minutes.
Afterward, Oladipo’s teammates were quick to give the electrifying guard credit for sparking them on Friday night. Now, they are exciting about having him back in the fold in the days, weeks and months going forward.
``Having Vic back is great because he is such a big part of this team,’’ said Vucevic, who made six of 11 shots and six of eight free throws and have five of his boards come off the offensive glass. ``Victor helped us a lot tonight and he brings so much to us energy-wise. He was playing so hard tonight and flying around and driving the ball and making plays for others. So it’s great to have him back.’’
Oladipo, last season’s runner-up in Rookie of the Year voting, was playing for the first time all season following a series of hard-luck injuries. He sprained a ligament in his right knee in the fourth practice of training camp, an injury that knocked him out of seven preseason games over a three-plus-week period.
Then, just as Oladipo was set to return for the final preseason game, he took an accidental elbow to the face and suffered a fractured bone just below his right eye. He had surgery on Oct. 25 – a procedure that involved a plate and several screws being inserted – and he only recently returned to practice while wearing a protective mask.
Milwaukee (4-5) got 24 points from Brandon Knight, but only five of those came in the second half when Oladipo was checking him for nearly 15 minutes. The Bucks had 56 points in the paint, but only 14 of those came in the second half.
The Magic are in arguably their toughest stretch of the season as far as the schedule is concerned what with four games in a five-night stretch. Orlando was in Toronto on Tuesday and in New York on Wednesday before getting Thursday off. Following Friday’s game against the Bucks, the Magic were scheduled to fly to Washington, D.C. to face the Wizards on Saturday.
Much like at the start of the game, Orlando opened the third period slowly, but Vaughn wasted no time going to Oladipo for a lift. The confident guard came in attack mode and jump-started Orlando’s play on both ends of the floor – much the way he did in the first half. Oladipo’s dazzling third-quarter sequence, one where he blew by Jabari Parker for a left-handed layup and then he drilled a nifty step-back jumper over Knight, gave the Magic a commanding 73-61 lead. And Orlando’s advantage remained at 12 points (80-68) by the start of the fourth quarter.
``Victor hasn’t played a bunch with the group that was out there with, but he’ll continue to be around his teammates and understand them more,’’ Vaughn said. ``But a good first night for (Oladipo).’’
Worried about rust and his conditioning after missing six weeks, Oladipo put those fears to rest early on his relentless hustle and attacking nature. How big of an impact did Oladipo have: Through the first three quarters of the game, the Magic were a plus-17 on the scoreboard when the No. 2 pick in the 2013 NBA Draft was on the floor.
Orlando led 52-49 at the half, but it came following a 24-minute stretch of extreme highs and lows. Good starters most of the season, the Magic were incredibly flat in the first few minutes and they found themselves trailing by 13 points just 6:27 into the first quarter.
But the game changed midway through the first quarter when Oladipo and Gordon entered the game. Oladipo checked in for the first time all season with 3:45 left in the first period to a warm ovation from the Amway Center crowd. Oladipo had a rebound on his first possession and drilled his first shot – a long 3-pointer. And the immediate impact of having the electrifying guard back was seen early in the second quarter when Oladipo got the ball late in the shot clock, exploded past a defender and was fouled on a dunk attempt. He made both of those free throws and finished the first half with eight points. Most importantly, Orlando was a plus-10 during his 11 minutes on the floor.
Gordon, the No. 4 pick in last June’s NBA Draft, absolutely changed the tenor of the game with his hustle in the first half. He made all three of his shots and both of his two free throws early on and had eight points, three rebounds and two assists in the first 24 minutes. Like Oladipo, Gordon’s influence one the game could be seen in his first-half impact on the scoreboard as Orlando was a plus-14 with him on the floor.
Vaughn talked before the game that Orlando had to become a better team at protecting the rim, and the Magic’s defense was exposed once again in the early going. Milwaukee scored 20 of its first 21 points in the paint and had a staggering 42 points in the paint in the game’s first 24 minutes.
Oladipo said that there were surprisingly little nerves in his first game back because he had little expectations of himself. Even if he played poorly, Oladipo said he was going to enjoy this night because he was finally getting to play the sport he loves so much after an extended time away.
``It’s just basketball and I’ve been playing it pretty much my whole life. But man, it was fun,’’ Oladipo said with a wide smile. ``I was just trying to go out there and be effective and not do too much in my first game back. It’s going to take a while for all of the rust to get off, but it’s just an honor and a blessing to be back out there. I really have a higher appreciation for where I am (being back on the floor) right now.’’