It was a seminal moment in the game for the Magic.
The Hawks had finally eaten away at a double-digit lead and the Magic’s comfortably uncomfortable lead thanks to Dennis Schroeder’s run of four straight points, including an and-one runner and a trip to the foul line. The Magic players on the floor at the time — many of them the young players the team wants in these exact situations — gathered underneath the basket before Schroeder would shoot his free throws. Jacque Vaughn sought stability and sent Arron Afflalo and Jameer Nelson to the scorer’s table to check back in.
It took some settling down and the willingness to stick with what had worked to that point, but the rewards would come soon. After giving up the lead one more time with about seven minutes to play, Orlando burned off an 11-2 run to go back up by eight points.
The Hawks desperate 3-point attempts, something that had kept them in the game all evening long, would not fall any more and the Magic turned turnovers and long misses into fast break points and layups.
The speed at which the Magic turned the game around seemed somewhat startling considering the youth and inexperience on teh floor, not to mention that not-so-sterling 9-20 record.
The Magic are indeed learning how to win, if not just in baby steps at this point. And this moment seemed to highlight the collective effort it took to knock off an undermanned but still game Hawks team 109-102 at Amway Center on Sunday night.
“We were definitely poised as a team,” Victor Oladipo said. “Nobody really dropped their head, nobody was really frustrated. Credit our vets for coming in and doing a great job. Arron Afflalo hit some big shots. Jameer hit some big shots. Tobias played really well for us. Moe Harkless did a really good job for us coming off the bench. We have offensive weapons everywhere, we just have to continue to build on them.”
Oladipo was not the one leading the charge, but he certainly played a big role in creating the energy necessary for the Magic to eventually pull away with this win.
Seven of the nine Magic players who entered the game scored in double figures and the team recorded a season-high 30 assists on the evening, emphasizing the ball movement and sharing that took place. Oladipo himself was flying around the court for acrobatic layups at the rim and a few highlight-reel worthy defensive plays. He finished with 15 points and eight assists (although he ended up with five turnovers).
Adding to the scoring totals were Arron Afflalo’s team-high 21 points and seven assists on 7-for-10 shooting, Tobias Harris’ 17 points, Nikola Vucevic’s 16-point, 14-rebound double double and Glen Davis’ 16 points. Maurice Harkless scored nine of his 11 points on a strong second-quarter run thath elped the Magic establish their comfortable lead.
Oladipo said to some extent his energy and the energy from his teammates were contagious as Orlando continued to push the pace off of every defensive stop. And those seemed to come pretty frequently even against an Atlanta team draining 3-pointers at a pretty solid and consistent rate.
The Magic countered the Hawks’ 15-for-39 shooting from beyond the arc by pushing the pace and getting into the paint. Orlando had 22 fast break points and outscored Atlanta 46-26 on points in the paint. Without Al Horford, the Hawks had a tough time getting consistent scoring options in the paint and seemed unable at times to do more than try dribble penetration to create open 3-pointers.
Add in some timely steals from the Magic and they were off to the races. It was a very similar formula to what helped the Magic win Friday night against the Pistons.
“I just think it’s very important for the guys to see, to offer proof of giving yourself a chance to compete consistently if you compete on the defensive end of the floor,” coach Jacque Vaughn said. “We had some great stops tonight. That’s the challenge every night. Now we’re starting to do it game-by-game. Now can we do it quarter-by-quarter and then, ultimately, you want it possession-by-possession.”
It has to be noted that the Magic, in trying to build consistent winning habits, have actually to repeat some of the things that made them successful the previous night.
The wins have not been forthcoming this year — now at a win percentage of about one win in every three games — and so every chance this team gets to experience a win and have a shot at winning basketball games clearly is one they have to seize.
That is all part of the process of learning how to win.
It was important in this game that the team came together on their own, collected and calmed themselves and rode what made them successful to victory. That was a scrambling defense that prevented the Hawks from getting much dribble penetration and would protect the rim when they did. A defense that challenged 3-pointers and got into passing lanes. And finally a team that converted those mistakes into baskets.
There was no denying as Oladipo or Afflalo or Harris were flying to the rim that something was going right. And that this team was growing.
“It’s a process to learn how to win,” Jameer Nelson said. “You don’t just put a team out there and learn how to win. You have to learn the course and stay the course when things get tough for you and you have those bad nights offensively. You have to rely on your energy and your defense. Lately we were shooting the ball well and our defense has been there for the most part us in those games.”
The Magic’s young players, Nelson said, have to learn from their mistakes and work through them. It was clear in the situations like Sunday night’s game that the veterans helped guide the young players through those hard times.
The end result was the positive reinforcement of a win well deserved and well fought for.