There was that palpable buzz back in the Amway Center yet again. Victor Oladipo certainly noticed it as the Magic fed off the energy in the building to yet again storm back and erase a 17-point deficit against one of the league’s top teams. It is hard to argue with the results with now five-straight home wins (and six of the past seven).
The players were dancing to the music playing over the loud speakers — DANCING. You would hardly know at that moment that this was still a close game that needed finishing. Or that Paul George would eventually get a look at the basket following a Magic inbound turnover with nine seconds left that he would miss over three Magic defenders.
The reason to dance in a 93-92 victory for Orlando at the Amway Center over East-leading Indiana was because this team looks like it is having fun again(?). Fun maybe for the first time.
Maurice Harkless, tasked once again with stopping an MVP favorite did so and Victor Oladipo provided an offensive spark scoring 13 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter, cracking the code of Indiana’s tough interior defense. Harkless called this two-game stretch of wins over the East-leading Pacers and West-leading Thunder perhaps the high point of his two years in Orlando so far.
It is hard to argue with him. It is also hard not to say that this is not the culmination of tons of hard work finally giving the Magic some type of reward.
“When you play hard, you give yourself a chance and you never know what can happen,” Jameer Nelson said. “In my eyes, we outworked them especially in the second half. Everyone who played and even guys on the bench did their job of keeping guys heads in the game and rooting guys on as they were out there battling.”
The Magic trailed by 10 entering the final quarter and trailed by as much as 17 points in the second half. It looked like the Pacers were set to crack the game open. Orlando’s ball movement in the first half was stagnant and Indiana was suffocating on defense. Orlando had just seven assists on 18 first-half field goals and the Pacers shot 48.8 percent from the floor including 6 for 10 from beyond the arc.
Things had to change on the defensive end before they could change on the offensive end and change the score.
This is where the Young Guns made their mark yet again. The energetic, young group did exactly what they are always charged to do. They changed the game yet again and continued to make a name for themselves in giving the Magic something to cheer — and, yes, dance — about.
Victor Oladipo scored the first five points of the fourth quarter and Maurice Harkless sparked things with his steals and defense to give the Magic that push. Oladipo’s hot start to the fourth quarter was part of an amazing 34-10 run for the Magic that stretched from the 3:45 mark of the third quarter to the 5:21 mark of the fourth quarter. Orlando had turned a 17-point deficit into a seven-point lead.
“Just credit Coach Vaughn,” Oladipo said. “I know we play, but he has a competitive edge to him too and it kinds of feed off of us. Today, going into the fourth quarter, he just simply told us, ‘Whoever is going to play hardest is going to win the game. If you really want to win, you’ll play harder than them.’
“That second unit, we just went out there and we just played hard and played together. But most of all, we just played D. We let out defense juice our offense. When we play D, the offense will take care of itself.”
Orlando did indeed play defense in that final stratch. Indiana was 6 for 19 in the fourth quarter and committed four of its nine second-half turnovers. The Magic got the bounces and attacked quickly off the missed shots. They had 10 fastbreak points in the fourth quarter alone, beating the Pacers before their vaunted defense could get set.
Orlando won the way you imagine the team will need to once things turnaround record-wise — that seems to be coming much quicker than anticipated with the promise of these two wins.
It started with defense, as it should. every night.
There were still missteps along the way. The Magic nearly botched a six-point lead with two minutes to play. Oladipo missed a free throw late that would have sealed the game that still had him shaking his head post game. And an inbounds turnover set up Paul George’s last-ditch effort to win the game for Indiana.
The Pacers and George were the ones left shaking their heads after this game was over. They certainly felt like they left one on the board in the end.
“We didn’t understand that they’re going to keep fighting,” said George, who still ended up with 27 points on 10-for-19 shooting and 5-for-8 shooting from beyond the arc. “Point blank, they just continued to battle. At no point in that game did they think they were going to lose. And we just continued to give them that confidence.”
At this point, Orlando is leaving a lot of opposing teams scratching their heads and wondering what hit them.
The swarming defense, opportunistic shooting and never-say-die attitude that is beginning to characterize this Magic team is finally reaping the rewards that hard work is supposed to bring.
For this weekend, at least, this is starting to feel like fun.