Postgame Report: Magic Win Thriller Over Spurs

by John Denton

ORLANDO – For much of what was looking to be a forgettable Friday, the Orlando Magic seemed as if they might suffer not one, but two crushing losses.

Having already lost blossoming forward and the NBA’s top shot-blocker, Jonathan Isaac, earlier in the night because of a fluke ankle injury, the Magic avoided what would have been a second defeat when they came alive in the fourth quarter with some of their most spirited play and clutch shooting thus far.

Down as much as 16 points in the first half and trailing by seven with less than five minutes to play, Orlando rode some torrid 3-point shooting late in the night from Evan Fournier and Terrence Ross to capture a stirring 111-109 victory over the San Antonio Spurs.

``That was a good win … I mean, that’s probably the best win that we’ve had so far,’’ said head coach Steve Clifford, whose Magic (5-7) outscored the Spurs (5-7) 64-53 in the second half. ``A lot of guys played well and it’s good to win a close game like that. It’s also the first time that we’ve won two in a row and hopefully we can build upon that on Sunday.’’

For a second time in three nights, the Magic rallied in the fourth quarter to win. Two nights after surging past Philadelphia in the final period, Orlando outscored San Antonio 32-27 in Friday’s fourth.

Ross, the hero of so many late rallies last season, scored 10 of his 20 points in the final period and had a 3-pointer and a three-point play to get Orlando back into striking distance. Fournier scored nine of his season-best 26 points in the fourth period, including two 3-pointers – the second of which came with 1:16 to play and broke a 104-all tie. On the play, Fournier ducked behind a screen from Nikola Vucevic and buried the go-ahead jumper from the right wing.

``The play was for Vooch, but they did a great job (defensively) crowding me on the pass and Vooch adapted to a flat pick-and-roll. There were like five seconds left and I was in the corner, so there weren’t many options left and I just had to shoot it,’’ said Fournier, who wisely fired and gave the Magic a lead they wouldn’t lose.

Orlando trailed 99-92 with 4:42 to play before launching its game-closing kick to surge past the Spurs. The Magic scored the game’s next seven points by getting a hook shot from Vucevic, a 3-pointer from Ross and a floater in the lane by D.J. Augustin with 3:22 to play.

The Magic sealed the game late when Aaron Gordon drilled two free throws following a Flagrant 1 foul by DeMar DeRozan with 59 seconds remaining. Vucevic then made one of two free throws with 13.2 seconds left. San Antonio got within a point with a second to play, but they could never overtake the Magic following their stirring run in the guts of the fourth quarter.

Orlando’s two fourth-quarter rallies this week were reminiscent of last season when it had an NBA-best 11 wins in games in which it trailed going into the fourth quarter. This season, the Magic are 2-7 when trailing after three periods with both of the wins coming this week.

``I think we’re just figuring out our rhythm as a team and it’s all starting on the defensive end,’’ Ross said of a Magic team that made 10 of 19 shots and four of eight 3-point shots in Friday’s fourth quarter. ``Our fourth quarters for the last couple of games, we’ve played good defense and had low turnovers. That, alone, will give you a chance, but we did a good job of closing it out (with clutch shooting).’’

Fournier drilled five of six 3-pointers and handed out three assists, while Gordon chipped in 14 points, eight rebounds and four assists. Al-Farouq Aminu, who started in place of Isaac, gave Orlando a big lift early and finished with 13 points and 13 rebounds in 30 minutes. Markelle Fultz (13 points) played well early in the game, and Augustin (10 points and four assists) finished the fourth period with more solid play.

Afterward, several Magic players were effusive in their praise for Aminu, who was ready on Friday despite playing just 92 seconds on Wednesday as Clifford had to alter his rotations for matchup purposes. On Friday, Aminu – a key offseason acquisition for the Magic – chipped in two steals and grabbed five of his 13 rebounds on the offensive glass.

``We just put in Chief and he played great,’’ Vucevic said of Aminu seamlessly replacing Isaac on Friday. ``He’s competed his ass off, had a double-double and played great. He played a helluva game. Last game he barely played, but tonight he came in ready when his name was called. That’s what a true pro is, and all the credit goes to him.’’

Orlando took what could have been a devastating hit when Isaac was ruled out because of a sprained right ankle. The nearly 7-foot Isaac injured his ankle at a team event on Thursday night at the NBA Experience at Disney Springs to unveil the squad’s new ``City Edition’’ uniforms.

Isaac, 22, said he was joking around with teammates on one of the basketball courts and suffered a ``tweak’’ of his right ankle. Isaac, who admitted that his shoes were untied because of the low-key nature of the event, has been bothered by ankle injuries throughout his two-plus seasons in the NBA.

``It was just being on the court, messing around and shooting and stuff and I got a little tweak,’’ said Isaac, who was relieved when an MRI showed no structural damage to his ankle other than a sprain. ``I thought I was OK. I went home and put on a brace and then I woke up and went through shootaround (on Friday morning) and didn’t feel 100 percent, so I got with the training staff and they decided about what we wanted to do moving forward.’’

Orlando wraps up its season-long 10-day, five-game home stand on Sunday night and it remains to be seen if Isaac will be available to play. The Magic host the Washington Wizards in two nights and they are hopeful that Isaac – the NBA’s leader in total blocked shots (31) coming into Friday – will be available to play.

``I feel much better about this (ankle injury) just because it was in a controlled environment and it wasn’t like I rolled on somebody’s ankle where it was a big incident,’’ said Isaac, who has battled ankle issues throughout his two-plus seasons in the NBA. ``I feel OK, much better than I did (Thursday) night already with the treatment that I’ve done. … I don’t want to say yet (about playing on Sunday), but I do feel a lot better. I’ll just continue to move forward with the training staff and see where we’re at (by Sunday).’’

San Antonio’s DeRozan – a target of trade rumors already this season – did most of his damage early in the game and finished with 21 points. LaMarcus Aldridge didn’t score in the first half, but he finished with 13 points and six rebounds.

Down nine at the half, the Magic finally found their footing in the third period and took their first lead since the score was 11-10 in the early going. A 12-0 burst, capped by a Fournier 3-pointer, gave Orlando a 69-66 edge. However, the Spurs scored the final six points of the period to re-take the lead – an 82-79 edge heading into the fourth quarter.

Fournier (eight points), Ross (eight points), Fultz (seven points) and Aminu (five points and five rebounds) carried the Magic offensively in the period while Vucevic uncharacteristically struggled. From his first basket midway through the second quarter to a layup late in the third, Vucevic misfired on 10 consecutive shot attempts.

``It’s a good win, but we have to learn from it because we started the game, not soft, but we weren’t aggressive enough and we played like it was just another game,’’ Fournier said. ``We’re good when we’re super aggressive and we’re the underdogs and we didn’t play like that in the first half. And when we made that run in the third quarter, all that changed. We just outworked them.’’

Following slow starts to the season, Fournier and Ross appear to be finding their grooves with their outside shots. Over his last four games, Fournier has averaged 20 points a night while shooting 54.9 percent from the floor (28 of 51) and a scorching-hot 60 percent from 3-point range (14 of 23). As for Ross, who recently missed two games because of knee soreness, he has come back and averaged 15 points while shooting 53.3 percent from the floor (16 of 30) and eight of 19 from 3-point range (42.1 percent) over the last three games.

``Those guys are lethal shooters and great scorers, especially if Vooch doesn’t have it going or I don’t have it going offensively,’’ Gordon said of his Magic teammates. ``For other people to step up and make plays, that’s big. That’s what T-Ross does, doing it time and time again. Evan, too, stepping up and knocking down big shots. We needed them tonight badly.’’

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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