Orlando Magic earning every ugly, frustrating win

Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic (9) looks for a pass -- The Orlando Magic hots the Atlanta Hawks at Amway Center, on Wednesday, December 6, 2017.The Magic won the game in overtime play 110-106. (Ricardo Ramirez Buxeda/Orlando Sentinel/TNS)
Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic (9) looks for a pass -- The Orlando Magic hots the Atlanta Hawks at Amway Center, on Wednesday, December 6, 2017.The Magic won the game in overtime play 110-106. (Ricardo Ramirez Buxeda/Orlando Sentinel/TNS) /

The Orlando Magic were not pretty in Wednesday’s win over the Atlanta Hawks. That made it a valuable lesson as the Magic earned an ugly victory.

38. 106. 125. Final. 110

The Orlando Magic trailed by nine points to the Atlanta Hawks with 10 minutes left in the game. It was about this time, the doom and gloom began to set in.

How could any team lose to the five-win Atlanta Hawks and the three-win Chicago Bulls at home in the same season? What would that say about the team its prospects or anything else?

This is the NBA where any team can win on a given night. No team is so devoid of talent. But everyone recognized the importance of this game. Such a lifeless, frustrating effort where the Magic lost their own nine-point lead in the first quarter thanks to nine second-quarter turnovers and an 0-for-9 start from beyond the arc, could not become a norm. Orlando had to win this game.

With 14 seconds left in regulation, the Magic, already having blown a late one-point lead with three chances to extend the lead, trailed by three points. This was the kind of play and situation where desperation is not always enough. The Magic would need a good play and, perhaps, a lucky break to make it.

They got both. And the play gave them life.

Jonathon Simmons drove through the lane and dished it out to Nikola Vucevic at the 3-point line. A Hawks player tipped it, causing Nikola Vucevic not to catch it clean. He saw two defenders coming at him in respect to his 3-point shot. So he fired it over to D.J. Augustin. Augustin drained the 3-pointer to force overtime.

The Magic still had a heartbeat. And for once, that heartbeat meant they had some fight in them. Even against an undermanned and sometimes overwhelmed Hawks team, the Magic were going to find a way. No win is too ugly for a team desperate for any win at all.

"“You’ve got to be ready at all times,” said D.J. Augustin, who checked into the game for the first time in nearly six minutes of game action for that final play of regulation. “You never know when a big play will come your way. It’s a big part of being ready.”"

The Magic have not always found a way to win these games all year. In fact, the Magic have usually collapsed in these moments. They take those punches and never quite fight back. They do not finish those games or they respond too late.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

Perhaps, the Magic nearly responded too late in this game. They made their run, took the lead and nearly collapsed back behind. In overtime, Orlando took a precarious lead but not because of the team’s half-court execution. That remained fairly poor from the end of the fourth quarter on.

But the Magic did just enough to win. No matter how much they had claw.

The Magic took the lead for good thanks to Elfrid Payton stealing the ball from Deandre’ Bembry and scoring on a breakaway dunk. They took a three-point lead thanks to a Nikola Vucevic put back as he muscled off two defenders trying to get to the ball first. The lead expanded again thanks to an Aaron Gordon layup or D.J. Augustin flying through the paint and finishing on a reverse layup.

Orlando finally had the gas pedal down and making hustle plays all over the floor to make good on another strong defensive effort. That carried them through to the end.

This was the kind of gritty, nasty, dirty win the Magic have often lacked. They played with determination and grit at long last.

"“We found a way in the end,” Nikola Vucevic said. “Sometimes there’s going to be games like that where you just have to find a way. If you want to be a good team in this league, you have to be able to win those games like that. It wasn’t perfect. We obviously need to improve upon this. I know we can’t be happy just because we won. There was a lot of mistakes, a lot of things that we need to improve on. But a win is a win.”"

The Magic were far from perfect. The Magic struggled to get anything going in the middle two quarters, the offense stagnating through turnovers and poor shot selection. The defense did its best to keep the team in the game. The Magic turned in a strong defensive performance led, surprisingly, by Nikola Vucevic’s four blocks.

It was just those little things to keep the team in the game. Those are the plays the Magic have not always made to secure victories. Those are often the plays they fail to make that make it impossible to come back.

Aaron Gordon said to get the momentum back on the team’s side it needed to win the 50-50 balls, grab offensive rebounds and get stops. The team did that and slowly the tide turned toward them. In just enough time.

Orlando made those plays this time around. And the Magic waited for their offense to bounce back. They waited to get themselves back into the game. Eventually, they made those plays on offense too.

The intensity ratcheted up and the Magic answered the bell.

"“You have to earn everything in the NBA,” coach Frank Vogel said. “You can’t look at the other team’s record and we got a couple guys out and we’ve been all over the country and traveling and everything. It’s not supposed to be easy. You g to to earn everything. So just work and stick to our principles and hang in the game. Our guys fought really hard.”"

The Magic indeed stuck to those principles. They never truly wavered on the defensive end. Perhaps there were moments when the pick and roll defense became disconnected or they lost a shooter on the perimeter. But Orlando always got it back.

It was that kind of resolve that helped them lock down and finish the game. Once they got the offensive end going, the Magic found themselves with the opportunity they needed.

The opportunity to win. That is valuable for something.

Yes, there remained problems. The Magic turned it over too much. Their depth is absolutely stretched thin — and even more now with Evan Fournier likely out with a sprained ankle. They settled for mid-range jumpers or forced drives. They did not pass the ball as crisply as they needed to for long stretches.

But they came in a win. That is all the record book shows.

"“It’s an ugly win, but we’ll take it,” Gordon said. “When it gets bogged down and it’s a dog fight, you have got to come out on top. This is a lesson for us. It’s better to take a lesson in a win than a lesson in a loss. Come Playoff time in that first round, these are the type of games we’re going to have to win.”"

Next: Grades: Orlando Magic 110, Atlanta Hawks 106

And there is some joy — not satisfaction, but joy — in the ugly win.