Tobias Harris called the Magic’s Sunday night tilt with the Sixers a must-win game. Not because of the opponent — although looking at the standings, positioning and a season series are on the line — but rather for where the team is at in its development. Harris said the team needed to come out with the mentality of trying to bounce-back from the loss to Miami the night before. Much like a desperate Sixers team was trying to do in snapping a 13-game skid entering the game.
There certainly was a hint of desperation in the way the Sixers were playing. A desperation perhaps the Magic needed to answer back with. Especially with Jameer Nelson and Arron Afflalo sitting the game out with injuries.
When Orlando reached that point and made the plays they needed to, the scoring came fast and furious on a 21-4 run during the third and fourth quarters.
“Teams that win in this league, they’re consistent throughout the course of the game,” said Ronnie Price, who played in his first game since Jan. 31 in a surprise start. “But in the fourth quarter, they have another level that they turn up to. I take it as a compliment to say that our team was able to do that in the fourth quarter. That’s winning basketball and that’s what we’re trying to get to right now. Being able to step up our intensity level and our focus in the fourth quarter is a good sign it’s moving forward. We’ve got to make it a continuous thing.”
The Magic used some incredible hustle plays with Ronnie Price diving over players for loose balls or Victor Oladipo doing the same or Kyle O’Quinn deflecting passes that somehow stay inbounds to start fast breaks or following up shots with dunks or E’Twaun Moore crossing over Thaddeus Young for a clear pathway to the basket for a jam. They all added up to a 92-81 win over the 76ers at Amway Center on Sunday night for the Magic.
Orlando had that other level that Philadelphia simply did not or could not generate this evening. The Sixers struggled to shoot all night, but it was really turnovers that did them in as the Magic outscored them 26-12. They shot 5 for 18 in the final quarter (27.8 percent) and missed on all eight of their 3-point attempts.
Philadelphia committed six turnovers and had 19 for the game, turned into 21 Orlando points. The turnovers likely kept the Sixers from pulling away as they controlled the pace of play for much of the game.
The Magic struggled to score too until that fourth quarter. They shot 42.2 percent from the floor and had their own turnover problems to worry about. Only Tobias Harris and Nikola Vucevic were doing much offensively, accounting for 42 of the team’s 66 points and shooting 17 for 31 through three quarters. The rest of the team shot 9 for 24 (37.5 percent) at that point.
“I think Tobias really carried us in the first half especially where he was scoring for us,” Vucevic said. “I kind of struggled offensively in the first half and the third quarter. I felt like I needed to be more aggressive and help the team get some points in there. I think in the second half, other guys got going and that’s how we were able to finish the game.”
Harris finished with a career-high 31 points. Vucevic scored 18 points and grabbed 17 rebounds. Both were efficient and had to fight off the almost full attention of Philadelphia’s scrappy defense.
When Harris and Vucevic were on the bench to start the fourth quarter, you could wonder whether the Magic would be able to generate offense.
Maurice Harkless answered that question pretty quickly as he drained the Magic’s only 3-pointer in 11 attempts, keeping alive a franchise streak of 554 consecutive games with a 3-point make. From there, the floodgates were open as the Magic got to the rim, got to the line and generated offense from their defense.
The Sixers were caught staggering and Sixers coach Brett Brown was perhaps a little late returning to his starters. The Magic had laid the haymaker and relied on their horses — Harris and Vucevic — to carry them eventually to the end of the game.
“We as a team forced too much,” Brown said. “Nineteen turnovers, 16 came from our point guards. I think some of that is a byproduct of when you meet people, you feel so naked of things you can do offensively. They’ve just come in and really you’re stripped down to run a middle pick and roll or a sideline pick and roll and a little bit of continuity.”
Philadelphia certainly missed that continuity with a roster that is still a bit in flux after the trade deadline. Brown was sure to give all credit to the Magic. He said Orlando certainly raised its intensity and bothered Philadelphia, knocking the team off its perch and out of the lead.
The Magic put together a solid performance on a night when they had a bit less than their best. Just finding a way and generating energy is the key to winning games in this league.
Orlando made those plays.