The Orlando Magic needed an edge to their game and regain their fight. Arron Afflalo‘s fight was probably a step too far. But the team’s spirit is back.
It was surreal for Arron Afflalo to watch SportsCenter since Tuesday night.
The lead story in the NBA was not Anthony Davis‘ 40-plus-point effort in a win over the Boston Celtics or the Portland Trail Blazers holding off the Phoenix Suns. The story quickly turned to the rare NBA fight. A real NBA fight — not some escapade into the opposing locker room.
In a moment, Arron Afflalo’s annoyance at something said between him and Nemanja Bjelica escalated into fisticuffs.
After a physical box out, Afflalo turned and threw what can only be described as a punch. The scuffle escalated. And really, only video can do proper justice:
Minnesota Timberwolves color analyst Jim Petersen is right, it was a “punk” move. An action that has no place in the game. An action that was very out of character for Afflalo himself, usually fairly mild-mannered if not intense on the court.
Frustration boiled over for the Magic and for Afflalo, going through a difficult season himself shooting just 38.0 percent from the floor. It boiled over in the wrong way that day.
Addressing his teammates before practice, coach Frank Vogel said Arron Afflalo was contrite and apologized for letting his teammates down and his actions in the game. It will certainly lead to a suspension and a hefty fine (the NBA has yet to announce any additional disciplinary action).
“It’s an unfortunate incident. Just competitive nature,” Afflalo said. “An isolated incident. I’m very proud of my teammates. They stayed composed. Through all of that, they put up a great fight. Regardless if the energy was sparked from that. We showed some fight, figuratively, and for me literally. It was a great thing.”
It is never good to see the physicality escalate to that level. That is not part of the game in any way. And Afflalo and his teammates recognize that.
Too often the figurative notion of fighting is conflated with the real notion of fighting. There should not be that conflation and it should not get to this level.
But undoubtedly the team needed that mix of energy. They needed that edge. Afflalo said it should not manifest that way. But he was proud of the way his team responded afterward.
The Magic not only fought, they won. Beating one of the best teams in the league in the process.
Indeed, the fight seemed to change the team’s energy. Evan Fournier, who scored a career-high 32 points in the game Tuesday, said it definitely inspired the team. It was not that the Magic were not already playing at a high level or an energetic level before that moment but it definitely kept the team focused.
“It’s unfortunate for Arron,” Evan Fournier said after Tuesday’s game. “But when you see a teammate get upset like this and have that fighting spirit, it gives you momentum. That kind of toughness is the stuff we need.”
Orlando has needed that fight more often than not this year. The team’s record has indicated the team is struggling to compete on a nightly basis.
The team claimed a moral victory Friday against the Washington Wizards, lauding their fighting spirit and their desire to try to win the game. The fighting spirit that had been missing for several games appeared to show up finally.
They carried that through to Tuesday’s win against Minnesota. It felt like in some ways Afflalo’s physical outburst was as much an outgrowth of this team finally putting its foot down and trying to will themselves to a victory.
Vogel said he never wants to see anything escalate to fights. But he liked the team was playing with physicality. The altercation started with Afflalo trying to box out Bjelica, something he has been on his team to do more and more. And so from that perspective, it started somewhere good.
And continued this mini growth the team has seen the last few outings. The team has stuck together.
“We’re going to keep fighting and try to build a winning culture here and get as many wins as we can,” Vogel said. “It’s a credit to the character that we have on this team. We have good guys and guys that care and working to get it right. Nobody is happy with the losses. In a situation where you are losing like this, there is a tendency for your team to crack. We have not seen that.”
The team appears to be putting something together in the last few games. There are signs the Magic are showing that figurative fight now. The Afflalo incident was an outgrowth of that.
The team needed that edge. Undoubtedly, Orlando has put together two very good games. Two of their better games in some time.
The fight did not spur this. It was perhaps the frustration of the season boiling over as the Magic try to channel it and fight back against it, salvaging something from this forgettable season.
It boiled over too much. And everyone can see that.
“There’s obviously some frustration with losing and me not playing up to expectations,” Afflalo said. “We need that. We have to have some fight. For me, over 11 years or over the course of my basketball career, it’s been all about fighting and trying to compete to prove who you are.
“As long as I am wearing an Orlando Magic uniform or I am in the league, I am going to try to maintain a winning spirit and a fighting spirit. Sometimes it comes out in that way. Our team needs it. Our team needs it just to be hungry and defend our territory.”
As bad as it sounds, the Magic needed that little extra injection. They were seemingly already on their way there.