Orlando Magic find new energy from some unlikely sources

The Orlando Magic snapped their seven-game losing streak by turning to some new places for energy. Khem Birch, Bismack Biyombo and a fight all played a role.

Orlando Magic
Minnesota Timberwolves

The Orlando Magic needed to find energy from unlikely places. That has been an element that has often been missing this year. One group plays well, the other does not and the energy drains from the building.

The big goal for the Magic, admittedly, was an even baseline thing — just being willing to fight and play hard for the full 48 minutes, even when things are not going well.

Considering the Magic had lost 27 of their last 31 games, they would have to go searching in some unlikely places for it at some point.

In stepped Khem Birch in the second quarter.

The mysterious backup center who starred defensively in Euroleague but has struggled to get off the bench behind the Magic’s trio of centers. He finally got his opportunity.

And he made the most of it, making the plays the Magic have lacked for so long.

There he was flying to the basket to block a shot. There he was grabbing an offensive rebound and scoring a putback.

In the fourth quarter, there he was rolling to the basket and catching a perfectly timed D.J. Augustin bounce pass for a two-handed jam to beat the shot clock buzzer and give the Magic a seven-point lead.

“We need guys to come in and bring energy from the jump all the way to the end,” D.J. Augustin said. “That’s how we’re going to win. Just play together, move the ball and play with energy on offense and defense.”

The Magic got that energy from the jump. It was embodied in the surprise performance from Birch as much as anyone. But was picked up from Bismack Biyombo’s strong start to the game and Evan Fournier‘s torrid third quarter and then D.J. Augustin’s finishing flourish.

Between Khem Birch’s bounciness or D.J. Augustin dribbling around or even Arron Afflalo trying to fight Nemanja Bjelica in the second quarter, the Magic had some renewed energy. They had a bit more <pun alert> fight in them. The exact thing they had been calling for after their close defeat to the Washington Wizards on Friday.

Orlando found its energy in a 108-102 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves at the Amway Center on Tuesday.

Every piece had to come together. Whether it was Evan Fournier’s career-high 32 points or Aaron Gordon waking up from his shooting funk to finish with 14 points and seven rebounds, Orlando got what it needed from everyone.

“I think we were energized from the beginning,” Birch said. “But it was motivation because AA was out. That’s another man out and you have to pick it up for him.”

Undoubtedly the energy started from the very beginning with Biyombo’s effort on the glass.

Biyombo finished the game with 10 points, 16 rebounds and five blocks. He set a fantastic tone with his energy attacking the glass against a big Timberwolves team that has made a living on the offensive glass. They still had 11 offensive rebounds, but Biyombo totaling 10 rebounds, four offensive rebounds and three blocks in the first quarter set a major physical tone for the game.

A lot of those opportunities came because the Magic were able to be aggressive, according to coach Frank Vogel. Both Biyombo and Birch’s shot-blocking allowed guards to be more physical and aggressive on the perimeter and they were able to get to the basket for easy putbacks because of the guard’s aggressiveness.

Birch’s 12 points and 10 rebounds were, of course, a career high. He had not played much to score much more than that beforehand. But his energy was critical to the team’s ultimate success.

The energy was circular from everyone.

“They were dominant tonight,” Fournier said of the Orlando Magic’s two bigs. “Khem was playing really well. He was aggressive. He was more physical. We need that kind of guy coming off the bench playing really hard, doing the right thing. He was really big for us.”

Plays from Birch had a bit of an added bonus too. Seeing Khem Birch get his opportunity — thanks to Marreese Speights missing the game for personal reasons — got the team energized.

So too did that fight. Evan Fournier said seeing Arron Afflalo be willing to fight and show his toughness in that way got the team going. It was a turning point for the team emotionally for sure, although the Magic were still in the game and fighting hard to that point.

For a team that has not seemingly been able to fight back against adversity throughout this season, it was good to see a literal manifestation of their fight — even if it is likely to cost Afflalo a few games.

But that energy kept coming up from unexpected places. The Magic fed the hot hand all night as Fournier scored 15 of his 32 points in the third quarter. He said nothing really felt different about his game. Simply his shots were going in — 12 of his 22 shots and 6 of his 12 3-pointers.

And then Augustin wriggled free again and again as he scored 18 points on 6-for-9 shooting, adding six assists. He kept plays alive down the stretch and made big play after big play to fend off Jimmy Butler and the Timberwolves, desperately trying to extend their win streak.

This was the energy the Magic were missing. The little plays that build up over the course of a 48-minute game. The Magic never really took the lead until the fourth quarter. They won when the game counted most late. There was little faltering in that.

The energy carried through to the end. And that was what was necessary to win.