The Orlando Magic never backed down and are now playoff bound

The Orlando Magic's Playoff-clinching win over the Boston Celtics was as rewarding as their Playoff victory. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
The Orlando Magic's Playoff-clinching win over the Boston Celtics was as rewarding as their Playoff victory. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic have faced their share of adversity. They had plenty of moments they could have folded. They never backed down and now the playoffs await.

The Orlando Magic had nothing going on in the first half.

Their offense was dead outside of Nikola Vucevic and the Boston Celtics were baiting the team into every trap and corner they had laid for them. Nikola Vucevic was doing his best to keep the team going and in the game as they trailed by as much as 13.

Things felt like they would slip away.

Orlando made their first push and then kept pushing taking as much as a 14-point lead behind Terrence Ross and Evan Fournier.

Then came the Celtics’ run.

A 13-0 run that brought Boston to within one. A Kyrie Irving 3-pointer that tied the game at 106. The pressure was ramped up the TD Garden crowd was trying to drive their team to make one more push and put pressure on the Philadelphia 76ers for the third seed.

This is the moment of truth. This is the moment where a team either keeps fighting or capitulates. This was the moment nobody knew how the Magic would react.

The pieces seemed to be falling apart. Earlier in the day, the Charlotte Hornets defeated the Detroit Pistons to put even more pressure on the team. The Charlotte Hornets would finish the year with a back to back at the Cleveland Cavaliers before facing the Orlando Magic.

A loss Sunday would force the Magic into a likely do-or-die game to make the playoffs on Wednesday.

Now, the Magic’s fourth-quarter lead had collapsed. It was easy to see the dreams of this entire season fall apart. The pressure too much and the team unable to step up. The Magic were staggered.

But they would not back down. They have never backed down all season. And this why the Magic are now in the playoffs.

This is who the Magic are now. All the doubt they could be this team is gone. They have the reward for their season’s worth of hard work. It came down to a few key plays. But the exuberance afterward was clear.

Orlando turned to the two players that have been through the most pain of these last six years in their moment of need. They took that punch from the Celtics and got up. And punched right back.

They did not need anyone to get them in or help them. They went out and won the game. The got up off the mat time and again. This was a quintessential Magic win. One that cuts to the core of their identity and proved how much they belong in the field of 16.

Evan Fournier and Nikola Vucevic ran their pick and roll and Fournier saw nothing but the green paint in front of him. He jammed the ball over Daniel Theis for a two-point lead.

Orlando scrambled on defense with Terrence Ross blocking a Jaylen Brown 3-pointer in the corner. The Magic’s two-point lead stayed on track and the Magic attacked in the pick and roll again. Fournier helped set up Vucevic on the block. The Celtics came to double.

And Aaron Gordon took his opportunity. He cut down the open lane and took the pass and layed it in.

Orlando had a four-point lead. The team could feel it now.

All the pain, all the frustration, all the heartache of the last six years, it all seemed to go away quickly. The moment was becoming real.

The Magic defense got one more stop. Michael Carter-Williams picked up the rebound and drew a foul. He sank both free throws and it became very real then.

Orlando found itself back in the playoffs, clinching a spot after a 116-108 victory over Boston at TD Garden on Sunday. The team gave up an 11-0 run that brought the Celtics within one point. The Magic then closed the game on a 10-2 run.

Orlando took Boston’s best punch. Irving used all his star power to try to will the Celtics back in it. And the Magic stood tall. They kept finding a way.

That has been the true character of this team. Something they had to learn and get ingrained in them throughout the season.

The season started with much of the same that we had seen in the last six years. The Magic were struggling to do much of anything consistently. They started scoring big wins but could not get much momentum built.

On a West Coast trip in January, the Magic lost four of five games, holding double-digit leads in three of those games. The team seemed to lack the maturity to close games out.

But they returned home to win back-to-back games against the Houston Rockets and Boston Celtics. That seemed to give them the confidence boost they needed.

Since that time, they have played like one of the best teams in the league. Their defense turned into one of the best in the league. They made the Amway Center a fortress.

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Orlando did all the things it had to do to win. The team shared the ball and moved it, working inside out through Vucevic. It defended at an incredibly high level. They will finish as one of the 10 best defenses in the league.

The team never quit on the dream. It kept grinding and finding wins.

Vucevic earned his first All-Star bid and was the rock for the team. Fournier struggled with his shot all year but bounced back to finish the season on a strong flourish. He was quietly one of the best clutch players in the league and he helped the team clinch its playoff berth.

Then they had their ace in the hole too.

Ross’ ability to go on long scoring bursts proved to turn the Magic bench into a potent weapon. His 3-point barrage — including drawing three fouls on 3-point shots — helped stake Orlando a 14-point in the early fourth quarter.

The team faced its share of injuries this year too and just kept fighting back. After Orlando trusted Isaiah Briscoe to man the backup point guard spot, he tore his meniscus. The Magic signed Michael Carter-Williams to a 10-day contract and he delivered. His defense helped change the energy of that second unit. So too did Khem Birch stepping in for rookie Mohamed Bamba.

Orlando found itself down plenty throughout the season. Previous iterations of this group might have felt despondent in those moments.

They could have given into the momentum and gravity of the moment against the Celtics on Sunday too.

But this team never has given up on the dream. This team has never flinched in the face of a setback or pressure. They have responded to every challenge.

Orlando stood up to the test of the playoff hunt. This team never backed down. They took on the exact identity coach Steve Clifford envisions for his team.

There have been hiccups along the way. They will have their work cut out for them once the playoffs begin.

But they have a reason to celebrate. They finally found their way in.

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The Magic are playoff bound.