Magic Rally For Comeback Road Win Over Grizzlies

Michael Carter-Williams
by John Denton

MEMPHIS – Looking for something – anything, really – to try and spark an offense that badly lagged over the first 55 games of the season, Steve Clifford and his Orlando Magic coaching staff submerged themselves in what the head coach likes to call ``a deep dive’’ over the break for the NBA All-Star Game.

What Clifford and his staff came up with, simplistically speaking, was that the Magic needed to play faster. Not that they necessarily had to run and gun more, but that they had to get into their sets quicker, seek out shots earlier in the clock and remain in attack mode throughout possessions.

After sluggishly slogging along through a poor half on Tuesday, the Magic furiously picked up the pace after intermission, cranked up its offense and pulled off yet another double-digit comeback on the road for a stirring victory.

Down as much as 17 points in the early going and trailing throughout the game’s first 35 minutes, Orlando rode the stellar second-half shooting of Terrence Ross, Markelle Fultz and Nikola Vucevic to rally past the Memphis Grizzlies 120-115 at FedEx Forum.

``We’re resilient, we play hard and we’re always going to fight,’’ said Ross, who finished with 24 points and five 3-pointers – the fourth one breaking a 112-all tie with 1:19 to play and the fifth one providing the winning points in the final minute of the game. ``This is one of those nights where we came out kind of slow, but we picked it up in the second half and it paid off.’’

Did the Magic (30-35) ever pick it up in the second half against the plucky Grizzlies (32-33)? They outscored Memphis 70-52 after intermission in yet another second half that proved to be a 180-degree difference than the first 24 minutes.

Orlando won for a third straight time and wrapped an impressive 3-1 road trip that spanned eight nights. In a game reminiscent of their 19-point rally past Brooklyn two weeks ago, the Magic had a 35-23 edge in the third period and 35-29 advantage in the fourth for the victory.

``We got 70 (second-half points) and they’re terrific on defense,’’ Clifford said of the Grizzlies. ``We had some good play from our starters – (Nikola) Vucevic made plays, obviously. But those three guys off the bench – D.J. (Augustin), T-Ross and (Michael Carter-Williams) were very good.’’

The Magic, who were once again without second-leading scorer Evan Fournier (sprained right elbow), won much the same way they have of late – by getting offensive contributions from several places on the roster. Carter-Williams not only scored a season-best 20 points, but he made the defensive play of the night by drawing a charge on Morant just outside the restricted area with 55.6 seconds remaining to preserve Orlando’s three-point lead at the time.

``I’m pretty sure – I’ve got to go back and look at the film – that I was the low man, but I’m just following Coach’s (Clifford’s principals),’’ Carter-Williams said of leaving his man to help cut off Morant’s drive. ``I saw (Morant) going to the rim and attacking the hoop – he’s great at attacking – and I saw him getting ready to go up and I was in the right position to take a charge.’’

Memphis got within three in the closing seconds and Tyus Jones had a chance to knot the score, but his 3-pointer with 4.2 seconds was off the mark.

Vucevic finished with 19 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists, while Augustin chipped in 16 points and two 3-pointers off the bench. Aaron Gordon added eight points, nine assists and seven rebounds after enduring a scoreless first half.

Said point guard Markelle Fultz, who had a key basket and three assists in the final quarter and finished with 14 points, six assists and three steals against Morant, the NBA Rookie of the Year favorite (21 points, five assists and five turnovers): ``Going 3-1 is huge and for me, it’s big to make plays, but it goes all for my teammates. If it wasn’t for Vooch setting screens, everybody spacing the floor and believing in each other, I wouldn’t be able to do anything. I’m just building on my confidence, we’re building on each other and we’re trying to go out there and win.’’

Vucevic said the Magic’s newfound style of playing with increased pace greatly helped out the team’s offensive attack.

``Offensively, we took a huge step over the last 10-to-12 games and it’s really helped our confidence,’’ Vucevic said. ``We know that we’re a good defensive team, but you have to be able to score the ball, especially with the way that the game is going with a lot of high-scoring games. That’s really helped us. (Tuesday) was a close game and we know that we can make the right play. It comes from us playing the right way.’’

The Magic came into the night riding a two-game winning streak after routing the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Houston Rockets on Friday and Sunday. Tuesday’s game was the last of an eight-night, four-city road trip through the Midwest, Southwest and Southeast.

Orlando and Memphis were meeting for the first time since Nov. 8 when the Magic throttled the Grizzlies 118-86 at the Amway Center. In addition to swatting 10 shots and swiping 10 steals that night, the Magic defense forced Morant into six turnovers and 10 missed shots in 13 tries.

After spending the past eight nights on the road while traveling to Miami, Minnesota, Houston and Memphis, the Magic will get a much-needed day off on Wednesday. The team will be back in action on Thursday night when it faces the Chicago Bulls at 7 p.m. at the Amway Center. The Magic are 1-0 this season against the Bulls, beating them 103-95 on Dec. 23 in a game where the Magic swatted 13 shots.

Jonas Valanciunas had 27 points for the Memphis.

Down as much as 17 in the first quarter and by 13 at intermission, the Magic fought all the way back in the third period to take their first lead of the night. Ultimately, they trailed 86-85 by the end of the third, but the Magic clearly played their way back into the game in the 12-minute stretch after halftime.

Orlando not only outscored Memphis 35-23 in the third period, but it did so by making 13 of 23 shots with three 3-pointers and six made free throws. Gordon, who was uncharacteristically silent in the first half, came alive in the third period when he contributed eight points and two assists.

Carter-Williams needed less than three periods to equal his season-high of 17 points – set on Friday in Minnesota. His corner 3-pointer early in the fourth not only gave him 20 points, but it gave the Magic their first advantage larger than a point in the game.

``Defensively – and I say it over and over – but you can’t play it a lot better than he does it on the ball,’’ Clifford said of Carter-Williams, whom he considers to be one of the top defenders he’s ever coached in 20 seasons at the NBA level. ``His pick-and-roll defense is just light’s out.

``He had 20 (points) and with his defense, halfway through the second half, we were talking (as a coaching staff) and I told those guys, `We’ve got to finish with him,’’’ Clifford added about Carter-Williams. ``Those (Grizzlies’ perimeter) guys are hard to keep out of the paint and he’s our best guy at containing the ball.’’

Strong starters of late, the Magic came out sluggish on both ends of the floor, trailed by as much as 17 in the early going and found themselves in a 63-50 hole at intermission. Not only did the Magic surrender eight 3-pointers and 53.8 percent shooting in the opening half, their offense mustered just 38.8 percent accuracy with 11 turnovers.

Orlando fell into a 30-13 hole early in the first quarter before heating up to get back within striking distance. The Magic missed six of their first seven 3-point shots before making four straight to end the first period. That hot stretch allowed Orlando to get as close as six (37-31) early in the second period.

Carter-Williams, who has been working for weeks with Magic shooting coach Bruce Kreutzer, had 10 points by halftime for his fourth consecutive game of double-digit scoring. Carter made his first four free throws and four of his first five shots – the prettiest of them being a thunderous dunk following a steal near midcourt.

Ultimately, the Magic’s offense picked up the pace after halftime, came alive when they had to have it and jump-started another late-game rally for a victory.

``It makes everything move smoother by putting pressure on the defense,’’ Fultz said of Orlando’s faster pace of play. ``It doesn’t mean that you’ve got to shoot it every time, but just getting into our offense quicker, it makes the team have to guard you because they never know what’s going to happen. So, the new model of the team, everybody’s been trying to (pick up the pace) and it’s going well.’’

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.

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