Postgame Report: Magic 107, Grizzlies 100

by John Denton

ORLANDO – Quite possibly, no player in the 29-year history of the Orlando Magic has ever gone scoreless in a game and still had as great of an impact on a victory as rookie forward Jonathan Isaac did on Saturday night.

Officially, Orlando guard Evan Fournier hit the game-winning 3-pointer for a second night in a row, but he and the Magic most likely never would have never been in that position if not for the long-armed defense of Isaac.

In 17 ½ minutes of Orlando’s 107-100 defeat of the Memphis Grizzlies at the Amway Center, Isaac grabbed five rebounds, swatted three shots – including a 3-pointer that could have potentially tied the game with 11.7 seconds remaining – and altered at least a half-dozen more shots.

``There were about eight or nine plays tonight where he was directly responsible for forcing a miss. He didn’t get the blocked shot or anything like that, but he was in the vicinity and he’s so long and he just changes things and changes shots,’’ Magic coach Frank Vogel raved. ``And he changes us as a basketball team on the defensive end.’’

The prized No. 6 pick in last June’s NBA Draft, who has grown to 6-foot-11 (from 6-10) and has bulked up to 222 pounds (from 210), used his 7-foot-2 wingspan and 9-foot-4 standing reach to completely frustrate the Grizzlies (18-44) at the rim and pave the way for a second straight victory for Orlando (20-43).

As Vogel pointed out afterward, it’s no coincidence that the defensively challenged Magic’s last two opponents have shot 43 and 40 percent as Isaac was making his return from a two-month absence because of ankle issues.

Then, there are these unmistakable facts to consider concerning Isaac: Orlando is 10-7 in the rookie’s 17 games played this season and 10-4 in the games that he finished without being bothered by ankle pain.

``It feels great, first, coming back, but then to be able to contribute and put wins in that win column, that really feels great,’’ Isaac said. ``I’m just trying to use my length to the best of my ability and my defensive instincts. It feels great that they know where (the inspiration defensively) is coming from.’’

Fournier, the hero of Orlando’s overtime defeat of Detroit a night earlier, drilled a tiebreaking 3-point shot with 22.5 seconds remaining. Fournier, who scored 19 points, seemed to have little working on the play where he hit the eventual game-winner in the final minute. He missed a cutting Nikola Vucevic (19 points and six rebounds), dribbled twice and then drilled a 28-foot 3-pointer over the outstretched arm of Memphis guard Dillon Brooks. Coincidentally, it was Fournier’s only 3-point make of the game in six tries.

``I’ve been missing a lot of shots, so I was kind of upset,’’ Fournier said after going seven of 13 from the floor. ``In my mind, I was just like, `OK, just make the game-winner.’ Fortunately, I did it. It’s cool.’’

Seconds later, Isaac made Fournier’s shot stand up by recovering defensively and swatting the step-back 3-point attempt of Jarell Martin. Later, after the Magic had gone up five points, Vogel re-inserted Isaac into the game and his long-armed defense contributed heavily into a five-second violation being called on the Grizzlies.

``Right now, defensively he’s tremendous and he’s helped us out a ton,’’ Aaron Gordon (14 points, eight rebounds and two blocks) said of Isaac. ``He gets the benefit of the doubt from referees because he’s 7-feet, so long and he moves his feet. Guys try to shoot over him and that’s just not a good shot. Refs don’t call fouls on him because he’s playing good defense without fouling.’’

Orlando won its second game in a row after dropping the previous seven. Prior to losing the seven straight, the Magic won three straight by beating Miami, Cleveland and Atlanta. During the seven-game losing skid, the Magic yielded 111.1 points per game – a number that has dropped to 102.5 over the last two victories.

D.J. Augustin and Mario Hezonja each scored 16 points and made two 3-pointers. Jonathan Simmons scored 11 points, none bigger than the three coming off a clutch corner shot in the fourth.

Ben McLemore scored 20 points for Memphis, which hung tough despite shooting just 40.9 percent from the floor. Martin had 19, while Mario Chalmers chipped in 15.

Memphis (18-44) has now lost 13 straight games – the longest losing streak in the NBA this season. The Grizzlies led most of the second half and held a lead as large as seven points early in the fourth period against the sluggish Magic.

Isaac started the season well and played a major role in Orlando’s 8-4 start. However, he injured his right ankle on Nov. 11 and played just three games between then on Thursday. His much-anticipated return came on Friday when he had three points, two rebounds, two steals and a block in just 15 minutes. In 17 minutes on Saturday, Isaac did not have a made field goal and missed both of his shot attempts. And Vogel and his Magic teammates could have cared less considering how formidable he has been defensively.

``It’s really difficult to score over him,’’ Fournier raved about the rookie. ``If he stays in front of you, he’s just so long and he has a quick reaction time. It makes it really difficult to get a shot off and if you do, you have to find another angle. In only two games, he’s doing a terrific job of being in passing lanes, blocking shots and just being there.’’

Both teams were playing on the second night of back-to-back set of games. The Grizzlies made a late run at the Denver Nuggets on Friday, but lost in Memphis and didn’t arrive in Orlando until after 2 a.m. The Magic didn’t have to travel, but it played an overtime game at the Amway Center on Friday and defeated the Detroit Pistons 115-106.

While Orlando is nearly whole – only Terrence Ross remains out with a sprained knee – Memphis was without stars Marc Gasol (rest) and Mike Conley (heel) and dressed just 11 healthy players.

Orlando leaves on Sunday for its longest road trip of the season – a five-game trip that will be spread over 10 nights. The Magic will face the Jazz (Monday), Lakers (Wednesday), Kings (Friday), Clippers (Saturday) and Spurs (March 13) on the lengthy trip.

Tied at the half, neither team was able to make much headway in the third quarter because of poor shooting. Each team made just nine field goals in the period. Memphis led by as much as five in the third and went into the fourth quarter up 79-77.

The Magic trailed as much as seven early in the fourth quarter before reserves such as Hezonja, Shelvin Mack and Isaac got the Magic back in the game. Hezonja had four points, an assist and a steal in the fourth quarter alone and Isaac took care of the rest defensively.

``What I’m doing, I’m not really comfortable yet offensively and I’m still learning spacing and all this, but I’m comfortable defensively,’’ Isaac said. ``I have my defensive instincts and I just play. That (defensive) foundation has been really good and I’m just trying to build off of it.’’

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.