Orlando Magic Grades: Orlando Magic 112, Philadelphia 76ers 97

The Orlando Magic turned their defense up in the fourth quarter and were able to surge past the Philadelphia 76ers for a much-needed win.

Final
Orlando Magic
112
Philadelphia 76ers
97

Aaron Gordon struggled to keep track of Ben Simmons throughout much of the night. The Orlando Magic’s defensive schemes looked a bit scattered as they tried to corral the Philadelphia 76ers super point guard. The team tasked Aaron Gordon with tracking him the entire night.

Orlando was on the ropes defensively for much of the night because of it. The Magic’s offense was not responding much either, stuck in the mire against a strong 76ers defense. They broke free because of free-throw shooting and respectable 3-point shooting.

At the end of the day, the team needed its defense. Coach Steve Clifford said before the game, the Magic would need their defense whether they were making or missing shots. It had to start on defense.

And with Simmons on the ball, it had to start with Gordon.

He and the Magic needed that spark and needed their defense to get physical. Gordon finally stepped up to provide it, cutting off the head of the snake.

Simmons drove the baseline as Gordon closed down to protect the rim. Nikola Vucevic was also there as a backup at the rim. That had to give Simmons some pause as he rose up for a dunk. It would not have mattered as Gordon was there to meet him.

Gordon snatched the layup attempt from Simmons and started pushing the ball upcourt. He crashed into the lane and the defense collapsed to try to stop him. That is when Aaron Gordon whipped the ball to the corner to Evan Fournier for a 3-pointer.

Suddenly, everything else felt loose. The Magic had a five-point lead that was only going to grow as they outlasted the 76ers 112-97 behind a 32-15 fourth quarter. The Magic played free and loose, turning their offense into defense.

This was how the Magic always meant to play. After grinding for three quarters and struggling defensively, the Magic finally had their breakthrough moment. They finally looked like the team that could frustrate even the elite opponents and make their run.

It was just one game. And one really quarter at that. But the pressure was relieved for a moment. The Magic played loose and in rhythm for the rest of the night. That made winning easy.

And some of the pressure was relieved, if not the urgency to get two more wins to close out this homestand.

AARON GORDON

F, Orlando Magic

B-

Aaron Gordon got the task of defending Ben Simmons one on one for the entire night. His minutes matched Simmons’ minutes and it was clear Gordon had the main task of stopping the Philadelphia 76ers’ best player (with Joel Embiid out). Gordon struggled with that role through the first three quarters. He seemingly called for switches when they were not needed and let Simmons cut freely to the rim.

It was bad and his offense did not help matters either. He hit a few early jumpers, but he relied heavily on his step-back and dribble moves to get his looks. The ball stopped in his hands far too often and the Magic were not able to get much moving.

That all changed in the fourth quarter. There he stepped up his defense, getting into Simmons more and helping Orlando force seven turnovers. He made Simmons’ job difficult and he helped with three of his seven assists in the fourth quarter. Gordon finished with 18 points on 4-for-12 shooting, making seven of nine free throws. He had plenty of aggression throughout, it finally got put in a positive direction in the fourth.

NIKOLA VUCEVIC

C, Orlando Magic

A

Nikola Vucevic has been a steady hand for the Orlando Magic for several years. Last year, he was just a consistent option for the team in the post. They could easily get him the ball and rely on his scoring. It has taken a while for him to find his rhythm, but Vucevic is getting there offensively again.

He finished with 25 points and 12 rebounds to lead the Magic in this one, taking advantage of Joel Embiid’s absence. He was good running pick and rolls and being available when guards were able to get the ball to him. He locked down the boards completely. Vucevic was good defending the paint when he was in there — Philadelphia goes 5-out a loot with Al Horford and Kyle O’Quinn able to work the high post.

Vucevic did not do anything super special. He made a couple of tough finishes on the move at the rim. But most of what Vucevic did was to be a solid presence on the block or wherever the Magic needed him. This was a good Vucevic game and others came up with him.

D.J. AUGUSTIN

PG, Orlando Magic

B

D.J. Augustin has taken his role on the bench in stride. But it has still been an adjustment. He is struggling some defensively to keep up with the speedier guards he sees on bench units. It is also a unit with a lot less shooting and that has kept D.J. Augustin from getting back to where he was last year.

Augustin got his run with the starters and he looked like the Augustin the Magic got last year. He darted around the paint and kept his dribble alive to poke holes in the defense. He finished his flip shots and floaters, twisting around the defense. And he found open shooters as the offense flowed and moved.

Augustin finished with 12 points on 4-for-13 shooting, adding eight assists and five rebounds. He had six points and four assists in the fourth quarter. His fourth-quarter pay was especially masterful as he manipulated the defense to his liking and found open shooters. The Philadelphia 76ers had to respect both his drive and his shot.

MICHAEL CARTER-WILLIAMS

G, Orlando Magic

A-

Michael Carter-Williams was not happy with the call. Josh Richardson went up for a three, leaping forward inside the 3-point line, crashing down on Michael Carter-Williams. It was called flagrant one foul as Richarson’s shot went through. That gave Philadelphia the ball and the free throw for the make. But Carter-Williams was incensed.

He may have had Richardson right where he wanted him. On a possession soon after, Carter-Williams took a blocking foul as he got into his man and tried to up the physicality. Richardson was not pleased with that and said something the officials caught, giving him a technical foul. The game changed from there. The Magic had an edge to their game and they were willing to get after the game defensively more.

Carter-Williams may have had that kind of effect on the game. He scored 11 points on 3-for-5 shooting, adding 5-for-7 shooting from the foul line. He was willing to mix things up defensively and make the game harder for Philadelphia. The rest of the team responded in kind. This edge is why Carter-Williams still gets minutes and meaningful minutes at that.

PHILADELPHIA 76ERS

7-4, 5th East

C+

The Philadelphia 76ers have a record you would expect. But even without Joel Embiid in the game, they were just a bit off. They had control of the game and played a see-saw battle with the Orlando Magic, but they could not get out of their own way. They fouled a lot to keep the Magic in the game at the foul line.

Then the fourth quarter came, and everything seemed to fall apart. They turned the ball over seven times for 11 Magic points. Philadelphia struggled to get shots to fall — the team is not great from beyond the arc anyway — and the good shots at the rim the team did get were no longer there.

Philadelphia got a great game from Ben Simmons — 18 points, eight rebounds, five assists — but could not get him going to the basket enough. Eventually, the Magic’s defense stiffened up and prevented them from getting anything inside. It was a game Philadelphia would like to forget.

Next: 10 observations from the Magic's first 10 games

The Orlando Magic continue their homestand Friday when they welcome the San Antonio Spurs to the Amway Center.

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