The Orlando Magic needed a win against the Philadelphia 76ers. With energy turning int heir favor, the team’s best players delivered a strong victory.
It came because of something Michael Carter-Williams did. And not necessarily something positive.
Michael Carter-Williams has pushed himself into the rotation early in the year on his grit and energy alone. This was the exact moment the team needed a kick in the butt from one of its role players.
Michael Carter-Williams took a flagrant foul late in the third quarter, fouling Josh Richardson on a 3-pointer. More than fouling, Carter-Williams undercut Richardson. How much might be up for debate, but video review upgraded the call to a flagrant-1 foul. Richardson turned it into a four-point play. And, if not for an Al Horford miss, it could have been a disastrous seven-point possession.
Carter-Williams was clearly under Richardson’s skin at that point. A few possessions later Carter-Williams took a block but Richardson was still not pleased with Carter-Williams, mouthing off and receiving a technical foul.
Carter-Williams and the Magic clearly had the 76ers rattled. But Carter-Williams, with all his energy and his edginess, is not the guy who could turn these plays into something productive. That still fell to the Magic’s skill players.
They needed to step up and give the Magic a win they desperately needed to start moving the season back in the right direction.
With a block and a pass to the corner for three. With a made shot. With a stop. With a rebound. With a foul drawn. The Magic took the 76ers’ frustration and used it against them.
They found the edge they needed.
They finally looked like the team that raced to the playoffs last year, even if it was just a quarter and even if it was just for overcoming a sluggish game. The Magic had a win they could be proud of and grow from.
“That’s what it’s going to have to be,” Carter-Williams said after Wednesday’s game. “We’re going to have to make plays and change the momentum of the game. We can’t just sit there and let teams get a lead on us and build without responding. We had to be a little physical, which is always good. We need to go in there and play physical and get stops and score on the other end.”
The Magic outscored the 76ers 32-15 in the fourth quarter. Their defense gave up 47.2 percent shooting through three quarters but just 31.6 percent (6 for 19) in the fourth. Philadelphia turned it over seven times in the final quarter alone.
The Magic hit on 54.2 percent of their shots and did not have a turnover. They recorded eight assists on 13 field goals and had the ball moving up and down the court.
They used their defense to power their offense and their best players made plays. They stepped up when they were needed.
Nikola Vucevic scored 12 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter, working the pick and roll with D.J. Augustin. Aaron Gordon stepped up his defense on Ben Simmons, limiting him to two field-goal attempts.
Gordon scored only four points but had five rebounds and three assists in the frame. His block on a Simmons drive was the momentum-swinging play of the game. It led directly to Aaron Gordon feeding Evan Fournier in the corner for three.
The ball moved around the perimeter quickly and the team got out in transition with its defense helping the team flow into its offense. The defense locked down the glass and defended the paint better.
Orlando certainly increased its focus as their sense of urgency to get the win increased.
“If you look at that quarter, we grinded it out,” D.J. Augustin said after Wednesday’s game. “We played defense. We got deflections and steals. we ran on steals and defense. We scored. We played together and everyone played their role. That’s what we need to do every night for the whole game.”
Things have certainly not been easy for the Magic to this point. The team’s 3-7 start to the year was mired with poor shooting and missed shots. The team has been stuck and seemingly unable to get itself out of the rut.
The Magic have been competitive but unable to breakthrough. The first three-quarters of this game had much of the same potential for disappointment.
The lead see-sawed between the teams, but the 76ers looked like they were about to take control. By the midpoint of the third quarter, coach Steve Clifford had burned two timeouts trying to get the team back under control and play defense at a higher level.
Even in those struggles, Clifford said the team stayed positive and kept grinding. They were not going to give in to any frustration. They knew the breakthrough would come eventually. All Orlando had to do was hang in the game.
That was a formula that Orlando used last year to pick up a lot of wins. They would frustrate teams and keep it close, using their execution at the end to finish the game.
It is all a sign this team can put things together. They finally showed it on the floor.
“We’ve got to be patient with this team,” Gordon said after Wednesday’s game. “We’ve got a lot of talent on this team. It’s a very good win for us, but there is better basketball to be played with this team.”
The Magic still have work to do, of course.
Clifford laughed when asked about the team’s execution for the game. Through the first three quarters, the Magic struggled and looked a bit lost defensively. This game could have very easily tipped out of their favor and gotten away from them.
The message from Clifford was simple. If the team does not get into the ball and play physically, they are going to get beat a lot more.
But that is where Carter-Williams can come in. Clifford said after the game, the coaching staff was buzzing from the edge Carter-Williams brought. It is hard to deny how that changed the game.
It is hard to deny how that inspired the rest of the team and how their best players answered the call. It was something the team needed to do to remind themselves how good they can be.
“It was definitely a big win for us,” Carter-Williams said after Wednesday’s game. “To get back in the win column the way we did it playing defense and sharing the ball was big for us. We want to build on that.”
Only time will tell if this was the moment things changed for the Magic and they finally righted the ship.