Postgame Report: Magic Fly Past Sixers With Strong Fourth Quarter

by John Denton

ORLANDO – Just one day shy of one year ago, when the Orlando Magic were still struggling with their shooting and trying to find themselves defensively, they welcomed the Philadelphia 76ers into the Amway Center, rallied in the fourth quarter for a stirring victory and began a modest winning streak.

Now, after they pulled off an eerily similar feat some 364 days later by rallying late against the Sixers at the Amway Center, the Magic have to be hopeful that better days ahead for them in the near future.

Down as much as eight following a horrid third-quarter stretch and looking like they might be heading for another discouraging home loss, the Magic came to life offensively and defensively late in the night, opened the fourth quarter with a 22-7 burst and coasted to a 112-97 defeat of the Joel Embiid-less 76ers.

``I hope it does (get the team going again) because we need a winning streak right now,’’ said Magic point guard D.J. Augustin, who played all 12 minutes of the fourth quarter and had six of his 12 points and four of his eight assists in the final period. ``We have two more games ahead at home that we need to take advantage of, and it’s a great opportunity ahead of us before we go on the road for some tough games.’’

Added Magic guard Terrence Ross, the hero of last season’s fourth-quarter rally against Philadelphia who had a momentum-turning 3-pointer late and 13 points in all on Wednesday: ``Hopefully this season follows along just like last season – only one day behind.’’

The Magic (4-7) won at the Amway Center for a fourth time this season by outscoring the Sixers (7-4) 32-15 in the final period. Fatigue likely played a major role in the outcome as Orlando came into the game off two nights of rest, while the Sixers didn’t arrive in Central Florida until 3 a.m. after playing Cleveland in Philadelphia a night earlier.

``Hopefully we can use this fourth quarter and how we played and build upon it, but it’s just one game, so we have to continue to work and improve,’’ said Magic all-star center Nikola Vucevic, who finished with 25 points and 12 rebounds – 12 of those points and four of those rebounds coming over the final 12 minutes of the game. ``It was a big win for us, and we needed it because we didn’t want to be 3-8, obviously.’’

Aaron Gordon overcame a poor shooting night and finished with 18 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists, but his best highlight of the night came with 6:45 to play when he blocked a Ben Simmons dunk attempt at the rim.

Evan Fournier scored another 13 points, while Jonathan Isaac added 12 points. Reserve guard Michael Carter-Williams (11 points and two rebounds) also had a huge impact on the game with the defensive grit he provided in a third quarter when the Magic were teetering.

``That’s what I’ve got to bring to this team – I’ve got to be physical and try to bring a sense of toughness to the team to get us going,’’ said Carter-Williams, one of the driving forces behind Orlando’s push to the playoffs last spring.

Added Magic coach Steve Clifford when talking about Carter-Williams’ impact on Wednesday’s win: ``He plays with an edge. There are guys who are good defenders, but even for this league, he’s an elite defender. … But he plays with an energy level and a fight that’s hard to find.’’

Magic point guard Markelle Fultz had eight points, four rebounds and three assists in his first regular-season game against a Philadelphia franchise that traded him to Orlando last February.

Josh Richardson, an offseason acquisition after Philadelphia signed-and-traded Jimmy Butler to the Miami Heat, led the Sixers with 19 points. Simmons scored 18 points, grabbed eight rebounds and handed out five assists, but former Magic forward Tobias Harris (four of 13 shooting and zero for three from 3-point range) struggled through an eight-point night. Harris, who missed all 11 of his 3-point tries on Tuesday, has now misfired on 18 consecutive 3-point shots.

The Magic came into the game sitting at opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of their offensive and defensive production. While they ranked 30th in scoring, 29th in shooting and 30th in 3-point accuracy, the Magic’s defense sat at first, sixth and sixth in those same categories on the opposite end of the floor.

Finally, in the fourth quarter, their defense resembled an elite unit once again. The Magic made 13 of 24 shots (54.2 percent) in the final period, while the Sixers connected on just six of 19 field goal tries (31.6 percent).

``I think a lot of it was taking away some of their easy stuff – some of the cuts, some of the transition threes and some of the offensive rebounds,’’ said Gordon, whose minutes were matched with those of Simmons so that he could solely check the star guard throughout the game. ``I think we were a little bit more locked into the game plan in the fourth quarter. We needed this one and we played really well.’’

Philadelphia was without Embiid, who was withheld from the game for ``injury maintenance’’ on his sore left knee. A night earlier, the Sixers defeated Cleveland when Embiid capped a 27-point night with a dunk with 13 seconds remaining.

Wednesday’s game was the third of the Magic’s seasons-long 10-day, five-game home stand. Orlando whipped Memphis last Friday, but it lost to the Indiana Pacers on Sunday. The Magic close out the home stand with games against San Antonio (Friday) and Washington (Sunday) before hitting the road for nine nights.

Knowing the importance of a successful home stand to the Magic in digging out of their poor start to the season, Augustin said the was almost in must-win mode on Wednesday.

``That’s all it is – sticking with it and fighting to the end because you never know what can happen,’’ Augustin said. ``That’s a great team over there (in Philadelphia), but we played great defense and we played well as a team.’’

Fultz became the No. 1 pick of the 2017 NBA Draft when the Sixers traded up to get him. They had hoped to pair his size, playmaking abilities and penetration skills with Embiid and Simmons and form a ``Big Three’’ of sorts that would make the Sixers championship contenders for years. However, those hopes never materialized when Fultz was hampered by a shoulder injury that restricted him to just 14 games as a rookie and 19 games last season.

When Fultz was diagnosed with Thoracic Outlet Syndrome – a constriction of nerves and blood vessels – in his right shoulder, Philadelphia decided to cut ties with the 6-foot-4, 209-pound guard. Orlando boldly traded for him last February and helped him get back on the court again. Now, he’s doing many of the things that the Sixers had hoped to see for years to come.

``I think he’s doing great,’’ Sixers coach Brett Brown said. ``He looks like he’s got a bounce and he was drafted first in the NBA for a reason. You’re starting to see signs of him feeling good about himself.

``(The Magic’s) coach (Steve Clifford) is a friend of mine, and (Fultz) is in good hands,’’ Brown continued. ``He’s just that dangerous in the open court and that elusive in tight spaces that he keeps coaches who have to (figure out a way) to guard him up late at night. We wish him well and I wish him well. His time in Philadelphia was short, but he’s just somebody personally who I will follow while I’m still doing what I’m doing.’’

Tied at 53 at the half, the Magic opened the third period well, hit a troublesome lull and then rallied back to get within 82-80 of the Sixers by the start of the fourth period. After building a 61-57 lead, the Magic went the next 5 minutes, 38 seconds without a field goal, allowing the Sixers to rip off 12 straight points. Following a time out, Orlando came back with nine points of their own to stay within striking distance.

And in the fourth period, the Magic finally found their groove by sharing the ball offensively and making things difficult for the Sixers with gritty defense and strong rebounds. It was very reminiscent of a year earlier when the Magic hung together through the tough times and rallied late to beat the Sixers in Orlando.

``We showed good mental toughness and good fight as a group,’’ Clifford noted. ``Guys were very positive with each other during the (time out) huddles and I thought we hung in the game well. Even in the first half, when we struggled for stretches and things were sketchy, we just kept playing. I think that was a big part of this win.’’

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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