Evan Fournier is the Orlando Magic’s closer. He struggled in that role this year after staking his reputation on his clutch factor. Wednesday he delivered.
Even through all his struggles last year as a shooter, Evan Fournier still rose to the occasion. He hit a game-winning, buzzer-beating shot against the Cleveland Cavaliers in November for an impossible comeback victory. A month later he hit a floater that needed the Detroit Pistons’ hope for a win.
Throughout his career, Evan Fournier has displayed what coach Steve Clifford has sometimes called the courage to take the decisive shots.
Fournier is putting in a career year this season. He has been the lone constant offensively for the Magic this year. Yet, he has struggled to make the big shots. Not that he is afraid to take them. Fournier has been the one getting the Magic to the finish line, but not getting them across.
That late-game playmaking element has been something missing as Orlando has struggled in close games — 12-16 in games within five points in the final minutes.
Wednesday seemed to put some of those concerns to bed. In the Orlando Magic’s 130-120 win over the Atlanta Hawks, Fournier was back to being the team’s closer yet again. He scored 14 of his 28 points in the final eight minutes to spark the win.
It was a clinical performance that showed just how Fournier grew a reputation of rising to the occasion.
With 8:52 left on the clock in the fourth quarter, Fournier checked in and took control of the game hitting a three from downtown in that very minute. Like the closing pitcher in baseball, Clifford tasked Fournier with shutting the door on any hopes of a comeback from the Atlanta Hawks.
Nevertheless, checking in and quickly making the game 111-104 with just eight minutes to go is exactly the guy the Magic will need during this final stretch of games in hopes of performing a playoff miracle. We must get there first and Fournier is going to play a huge role again in our quest back to the tournament.
This would be the first three points of the 14 Fournier is going to shoot in the final minutes to secure a victory and bring the Magic to 26-32 record as their hopes for the seventh seed increase by the day.
With 6:43 left in the contest, Evan Fournier would dish to newcomer James Ennis for a three of his own like a field general aligning his troops on the battlefield. The threat of his scoring opened things up for his teammates. It is Fournier getting involved with the assist making the score now 114-107.
Fournier would continue pouring in points. Scoring another basket before hitting another layup and and-one shot, breaking arm tackles driving to the basket. He could not be denied tonight, Its 120-109 Magic.
Fournier with just three minutes to go now is going to hit 1 of 2 from the line and quickly follow that up with another two points on a turnover making the game out of reach at this point 125-112 with just 2:25 left on the clock.
As the clock would wind down Fournier would ultimately make the final score of the game, an 18-foot jump shot just to make things nice looking on the scoreboard, giving the Magic a nice even 130-120 win.
After the game with Dante Marchitelli reporting from courtside, Aaron Gordon was asked about Evan Fournier’s excellent fourth quarter. Gordon responded, “He took over…he took over… I feel like they (Atlanta) lost him a little bit… and he brought us back… He carried us through, he made play after play.” And with a jubilant smile,
Gordon concluded about Fournier’s strong finish, “It was good”
Maybe Fournier can keep this going, and turn his clutch numbers around this season. When we compare his numbers this year to last season there is quite the contrast.
Here are his numbers in clutch situations, when the game is within five points in the final five minutes.
In late-game situations, field goal percentages tend to go down. It is a largely inefficient time in the course of a basketball game as teams tend to slow their offenses down to try to make sure they get a good shot.
Fournier this year has seen his late-game efficiency decrease. He shined last year in late-game situations and the Magic reaped the rewards. This year, he is struggling to meet those expectations and shooting an icy percentage.
At least he is working better as a playmaker in late-game situations.
For this Magic team, Fournier is still a pretty safe bet to get that kind of a good shot. He is still the player Clifford trusts most in these big moments. Aaron Gordon and Markelle Fultz are the only two players to score more points in clutch situations than Evan Fournier this year. They are both shooting better than 50 percent.
There might be some argument to go elsewhere late in games.
Then Fournier puts in a performance like Wednesday night when he takes control of the game. Clutch situations tend to be a bit random. A player with confidence like Fournier can always rise to the occasion.
The Magic hope Fournier can do it again for the rest of the season. They face a lot of games they have to win against opponents with records worse than .500.
Orlando will undoubtedly turn to Fournier yet again.