Tobias Harris said it felt like deja vu as Washington opened the third quarter on an 18-4 run, erasing a 12-point halftime lead and making the Magic think another double-digit deficit would be gone. Orlando shot 51.1 percent in the first half and had the game rolling against an improved Washington squad.
The Magic's field goal percentage started to drop and their defensive focus and intensity seemed to begin to wane.
Harris and the Magic would not let this be deja vu after losing a 19-point lead in Charlotte the previous time out. Harris was part of that collapse and he struggled at the end of the game. He and Jacque Vaughn reviewed the end of that game and Harris was instantly better.
And that is tough to do after scoring a career high in points.
Harris surpassed that career high with 30 points, shooting 11 for 21 from the floor and grabbing 11 rebounds. That included a big two-point shot when he pump faked the defender off the 3-point line and stepped inside for a jumper that gave the Magic a five-point lead, the Magic's final field goal of the game.
What that does not show is the play that Harris called a "gamble" where, with the Magic up three points, Harris left Wall early as he was set to pass the ball to Trevor Ariza at the three point line. Harris was there to meet him for what Ariza probably thought would be an open 3-pointer. The shot was no good and Orlando held on for a 97-92 victory at Amway Center on Friday.
"The key for us, especially being a young team, is getting into a habit where we take every possession, that when they are on offense that we focus and dig down on every possession," Tobias Harris said. "Toward the end of the games, and a lot of the games we have had in the past, teams have been scoring on us, especially in the fourth quarter in the last five minutes of the game. My goal tonight was to get our guys together and know that each and every possession counts."
Harris was a constant offensive threat throughout the game, adding three blocks to his record and while he did not record an assist, the defense was sufficiently focused on him to get others open. Harris had 11 points after one quarter and helped the Magic get on their way.
Harris though played an impact defensively. In more ways than just the close out or a couple of key blocks. He became a leader in many ways too. The team turned to him at a critical moment.
"Just willing himself, trying to will his teammates to a win," Jacque Vaughn said of Harris' play late in the game. "That's all he talked about, defense while we were in the huddle, getting stops throughout the course of the game and he was determined and that's great to see."
Orlando seemed determined to be the aggressors early on, taking the ball to the paint against Washington's interior defense (which was without Nene in this game but still featured Emeka Okafor). The Magic scored 48 points in the paint, taking 44 shots within the paint. The slow down in the third quarter came when Orlando was struggling to make shots, it was because they were not getting to the basket.
Orlando had 34 points in the paint in the first half alone. The Wizards closed down those driving lanes and made their comeback.
The Magic were resolute though. And that was the key for a team that has struggled to finish games of late. Even with players going for more than 40 minutes or playing 30 minutes in some cases, particularly the guards after Jameer Nelson sprained his ankle in the first quarter and left the game, Orlando found the will to close the game out in the end.
"We’ve been in that position before and we’ve lost those games," Vaughn said. "We made free throws down the stretch, executed, and then when we didn’t make shots we defended which gave us a chance to stay in the game. Just great effort by every guy that stepped on the floor."
If there was any bigger sign of growth fromt his young squad it was in the stark contrast between the end of Wednesday's game at Charlotte and the end of Friday's game against Washington. It was starkly different.
Here was a Magic team energized defensively even with shots not falling — Orlando shot only 34.1 percent from the floor in the second half — and willing to make big plays necessary to stop runs. The team trusted the shots would fall when they needed to.
John Wall was a runaway train in scoring 35 points on 11-for-28 shooting. But he had only two assists and so the Magic felt they could live with that kind of defense on the former number one pick.
Even though Orlando struggled to shoot, Washington did not do much better, shooting 37.0 percent from the floor and just 4 for 20 from beyond the arc. Only Wall and Martell Webster — 19 points on 7-for-18 shooting — scored in double figures.
"[Wall] only had two assists," said Beno Udrih, who scored 10 points and had nin assists playing nearly 31 minutes with Nelson injured for the majority of the game. "If he wants to score 40 and has two assists, that means he didn’t find his teammates as much as he did in the previous games. We definitely played good defense all around. We won the game.
"We definitely played great defense and that is how we gave ourselves a chance."
For once, everything seemed to work out for the Magic in the end.