The Magic have been talking about it for weeks it seems. The little things necessary to secure wins. The will to pull through and get a victory and make those little plays to secure the win down the stretch. There was the rebounding on the interior at key moments to keep possessions alive or the defensive stops and quick contests and rotations that were necessary to eke out a win.
Every possession clearly mattered in this one as the Magic had to rally from as much as a 16-point deficit and get a game-tying 3-pointer from Arron Afflalo with seven seconds left to force overtime.
It became a game of execution, the kind of back-and-forth affair that teams have to find a way to pull out with time ticking down. The kind of games the Magic have dropped in Minnesota, in Cleveland and in Utah in heartbreaking fashion.
Jameer Nelson proved to be hero nailing a pull-up 3-pointer in overtime which gave the Magic the lead for good and from there it was all free throws for the Magic to ice a gritty and rewarding 110-105 overtime win over the likely Playoff-bound Bobcats.
For a Magic team that has now eclipsed last year’s win total, there was a small measure of reward in finishing this game off.
“I think the entire time we have had opportunities to learn from each situation,” Jacque Vaughn said. “Being in tight situations, begin able to learn from situations — sometimes painful, sometimes not to our advantage — but being able not to panic and get to a level of consistency. You do that by being in situations over and over again. Guys have learned and that is what growth is, being able to learn from your mistakes and want to grow.”
As the season winds down, there will be a search fro tangible signs of growth and that the Magic are headed in the right direction. A late-season win streak against two Playoff teams — one in convincing fashion and the other with a tight finish — certainly seem to suggest this growth is occurring.
Then you look at the individual play throughout and what it took to get the game to overtime.
Nikola Vucevic turned in his second 20/20 game of the season, scoring 24 points and grabbing 23 rebounds, including 10 on the offensive end. He was able to tip and bat the ball around the rim throughout the entire game as Charlotte was unable to get a big enough body on him. Vucevic was active and the attention Charlotte had to pay him freed up opportunities for Kyle O’Quinn and Tobias Harris to get their work in too.
O’Quinn had 13 points and seven rebounds too. Tobias Harris scored 15 points and grabbed seven rebounds. Harris was critical in bringing the Magic back from a deficit with his array of pull-up jumpers and the way he squeezed into the lane to score.
The Magic’s guards did their part too.
Victor Oladipo took over the game in the third quarter as the Magic were trying to stay in the game. the confidence poured over into the fourth as he was confidently driving to the basket. Oladipo finished with 14 points in the game with 10 coming in the second half and overtime.
Then came the heroes, Arron Afflalo took advantage of the momentary mistake from Gerald Henderson of going under a screen at the top of the key. He hit the game-tying 3-pointer as he scored 17 points and made 9 of 10 free throws. Afflalo picked his spots and delivered.
Jameer Nelson scored 11 points and dished out eight assists in his first game back since March 18 in Golden State. His 3-pointer in overtime gave the Magic some separation — finally — after the team struggled to get more than a one-possession advantage in the final moments of the game.
Everyone stepped up when their number was called.
“I think it shows growth,” Nikola Vucevic said. “It is not something we have been able to do last season or really this season at the end of the games when we weren’t always able to execute. I think what was really good tonight was defensively toward the end of the game. We were able to get stops when it most matters. It’s really on the defensive end where you are going to win those close games.”
The defense was not easy in this one. The Bobcats shot 44.3 percent for the game and scored just 24 points in the fourth quarter and overtime. But they raced out to a 20-10 lead in the first five minutes of the game behind Josh McRoberts’ 3-point barrage. Orlando had trouble finding him on 3-pointers and then had to contain Al Jefferson and Kemba Walker. Walker went on his scoring runs but went cold at the end of the game.
As things got tight, the Bobcats had trouble finding the right formula for a win and the Magic secured seemingly every rebound. A 19-9 advantage on the offensive glass and a 20-14 advantage on second-chance points were a lot to overcome. They kept the Magic competitive and gave them life and energy when the defense finally did come along.
Again, it was the little plays and the belief that they could come back that helped the Magic score a victory.
Confidence is building and the team is feeling the growth.
“These guys are going to be in the heat of the Playoffs in a couple weeks,” O’Quinn said. “We were going toe to toe with those guys. By beating them we showed we can beat the teams that are not in the Playoffs and we can make our way in the East somewhere.”