Postgame Report: Magic Close Out Road Trip With Win in Cleveland
CLEVELAND – Undoubtedly, the Orlando Magic now have plenty to be thankful for after nabbing a Wednesday win that helped them put an end to a couple of unsightly skids and salvage their lengthy road trip.
Riding the aggressive and lethal shooting of Evan Fournier, the Magic connected on 48.4 percent of their shots and drilled 12 3-pointers – none bigger than two made consecutively in the fourth quarter by Markelle Fultz and Mo Bamba – in a 116-104 defeat of the Cleveland Cavaliers for their first road victory of the season.
Fournier scored a season-best 30 points as the shorthanded Magic (7-10) won for the first time on a four-game, nine-night trip that ended just in time for their players to get back to Central Florida for the Thanksgiving holiday.
``I mean, at this point, we need pretty much every game,’’ said Fournier, who finished two points shy of equaling his career high set in January of 2018. ``It’s a good win because usually at the end of long road trips like this you (are tired) but you had to like the energy. We came out playing hard and that shows we have character. That’s not a surprise to me, but it’s always good to show it.’’
Orlando came into Wednesday as the NBA’s only team without a road victory after they had dropped their first seven games outside of Central Florida. The Magic, now 1-7 on the road, opened the season losing in Atlanta, Toronto, Oklahoma City and Dallas before falling in Toronto, Indiana and Detroit on this most recent road trip.
``The biggest thing, and this is why I feel good about our team, but you play three games on the road in a short period of time, it’s been a struggle, we could have put our heads down and come in here and mailed in in on the last game of the trip, but we fought hard,’’ Magic coach Steve Clifford said. ``It all starts with the right approach and the right attitude. In this league, if you play well any night you can win, and we played really well.’’
Bamba (15 points) and Fultz (15 points) continued their stellar play of late and had major roles in the victory. After Cleveland twice got within eight points of the lead midway through the fourth period, Fultz and Bamba hit consecutive 3-pointers to push Orlando’s edge back out to 14. Bamba drilled five of five 3-point shots, while Fultz hit on seven of 12 field goals in his sixth consecutive game scoring in double digits.
``It’s all about preparation because I’ve put in a lot of work on my off time and I’ve been doing that my whole life, looking for the big moments and making big shots,’’ said Fultz of the 3-pointer with 5:43 to play that silenced the Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse crowd of 17,712.
``I was just playing within the flow of the game, that was the shot that was available to me and I just stepped up and shot it with confidence.’’
Jonathan Isaac chipped in 16 points, seven rebounds and three steals. Terrence Ross also scored 16 points and his one made 3-pointer turned into a four-point play following a Cleveland foul. Orlando had 13 steals, three of which came from D.J. Augustin (eight points and nine assists).
Cleveland (5-13) shot the ball well enough to win, but it turned it over 25 times – mistakes that the Magic turned into 25 points for themselves. Rookie guard Darius Garland scored 16 points, but he also had eight turnovers. Collin Sexton led the Cavs – losers of eight of 11 games – with 20 points, seven rebounds and six assists, but he also had four turnovers.
``If you look at our numbers, we’re top 10 in both deflections and steals, but we’re like 20th in points off turnovers, so we have actually been good defensively at creating chances,’’ Clifford said. ``We’re not taking advantage and we’ve got to take a deeper dive at that.’’
Tristan Thompson, long a Magic killer, chipped in 13 points and 15 rebounds for the rebuilding Cavs. Orlando defeated Cleveland in the second-opener on Oct. 23 and again on Wednesday to snap a three-game skid.
Orlando was without standout starters Nikola Vucevic (right ankle sprain) and Aaron Gordon (right ankle sprain) and ace defender Michael Carter-Williams (left hip irritation) for a third straight game. Orlando held out hope that Gordon might be able to play, but he experienced lingering weakness and soreness in his ankle following a workout with the team’s coaching staff and medical staff on Tuesday and was held out of action.
Bamba softened the blow of Orlando being without Vucevic by playing one of the best games of his two-year NBA career. He drilled two 3-pointers in the second quarter and two more in the fourth.
``I looked at the last game against the Pistons (on Monday) where there were a few opportunities I missed out on where I could have spaced out or popped (on the perimeter), and when I looked at our previous game against the Cavs and I knew Tristan and Larry Nance would be in their deep drops and I took advantage of that,’’ Bamba said.
Orlando could possibly get Gordon and/or Carter-Williams back by Friday when it faces the Toronto Raptors at the Amway Center. Carter-Williams has slowly started increasing his basketball activity, but he might not return until Sunday’s home game against Golden State at the earliest because he is still dealing with pain in his left hip.
``The pain is not all the way gone yet, but I’m making good progress. I wish I did (have a target date to return), but I don’t yet,’’ Carter-Williams said. ``I started working out on the court again and taking shots, doing some off-the-dribble stuff and running. So, I’m just basically testing it out and seeing how it feels the next day and then going forward from there. I’m making good progress and trying to get back as soon as I can.’’
Cleveland got to within 96-88 and 98-90 in the fourth quarter before Fultz confidently stroked in the 3-point shot to extend the Magic lead back to 11. Seconds later, Bamba drilled a 3-pointer from the right wing that put Orlando up 14 and send many in the crowd scurrying for the exits.
``I’ve been waiting for that moment to get an open three because I put in a lot of work to be ready to shoot it,’’ Fultz said. ``And then Mo coming down and hitting his, he had a helluva game by making five threes and shooting it so well. It really helps the team when he’s able to spread the floor like that and make those big shots.’’
Up seven at the half following a dominant second quarter, the Magic pushed their lead out to as much as 17 points in the third period thanks to more solid shooting from Fournier and their opportunistic defense. Fournier had nine points and his new season high in scoring by the end of the third period, while the defense forced 21 turnovers. That combination gave the Magic a seemingly safe 87-73 lead through three quarters.
Orlando led 59-52 at the half thanks to some much-needed success from beyond the 3-point arc and torrid shooting from Fournier and Ross in the first half. Tied at 27 after the first period, the Magic made five threes in the second period to push their lead out to as much as 11 points.
Orlando’s most consistent offensive threat over the past three weeks, Fournier struggled mightily in Monday’s loss in Detroit. However, he was aggressive and dialed in from the start on Wednesday and scored 12 of his 19 points in the second quarter. He got up a whopping 15 shots in the first half and drilled three of seven 3-point tries.
``We know how fast things in the NBA changes and we just want to stick together because we have much bigger goals than just this road trip,’’ Fultz said. ``Every game you’ve got to learn from and improve. Tonight, we did that, and we got that W.’’
Much like how the Magic dug themselves out of a rough patch in the season while plagued by injuries and mounting losses, Bamba delivered his finest game at an opportune moment. Earlier in the road trip, he voiced his displeasure over his own play and insisted that he was capable of giving the Magic so much more. On Wednesday, he showed off his massive potential with a career-best five 3-point makes.
``We need this really bad just for our confidence going into the next one,’’ Bamba said. ``It felt really good to see the ball go into the (hoop) and now we have to try and capitalize on this and let it bleed into the next game.’’
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