The Orlando Magic raised Aaron Gordon’s minute restriction and he played with the freedom and energy of a player that was finally unleashed.
There was always something missing from this team from the moment Aaron Gordon went down with the sprained hamstring that cost him his second trip to the playoffs. He said he felt the team was ready to do big things if not for all the injuries that crushed the team.
Gordon, always confident, truly believed the Magic would have not only pushed the Milwaukee Bucks last season but beaten them. It was a symbol of the lost potential of the 2019 season.
Gordon certainly did not have the season he wanted. Injuries lingered throughout the entire course of the season and he never could get himself fully right. His run around and after the All-Star Break seemed to display the potential for his all-around play.
This was the versatile, multi-faceted Gordon the Magic have always wanted to see.
That is the Gordon they had not seen to this point in the season. The one still slowed by that strained hamstring and put on a minute’s restriction. The one that was itching to get out with no restrictions.
Gordon was finally freed Monday in the Orlando Magic’s 103-83 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers. He finally was off his minutes restriction — or he was given more minutes to play with, roughly 30 — and suddenly he seemed to be playing freer. He was moving and gliding to the lane aggressively. He was shooting with an extra bit of verve.
Gordon scored a season-high 24 points, making 9 of 17 shots, including six of his nine 3-pointers in nearly 28 minutes. He had 13 points in the third quarter alone, helping the Magic pull away and eventually bury the Cavaliers.
It might be health. It might be removing that mental block. But Gordon was feeling it and giving the Magic the scoring boost and dynamic play they need from the young forward.
"“To me, it was letting go and getting in the flow of things,” Aaron Gordon said after Monday’s game. “Playing in the flow of the game, being patient, getting into rhythm and taking what’s available. And then just allowing my work to speak for itself. I know I have been putting in a ton of work. There are going to be nights where it shows.”"
Gordon spent much of his preseason and the regular season playing somewhat recklessly. Almost like he was trying to make the most of the limited time he had knowing it was eventually going to run out. He fouled a ton during the preseason knowing he was not going to play much in the second half.
His regular season started off slow too with Gordon still seeking his way. Everything felt like a rush and Gordon was cramming all he could into the limited time he had.
The Magic could not afford to let him rest with their lack of depth at the 4. They had to manage him and his start to the season.
Perhaps the restrictions put a mental block on how much he could contribute or what he could do. Something standing in the way of his potential production.
Gordon averaged only 12.0 points per game and 6.3 rebounds per game in 24.3 minutes per game. His minute restriction had him playing his fewest minutes since the second year of his career. This came after two straight years as the team’s leader in minutes per game.
More alarmingly, Gordon was shooting just 45.0-percent from the floor and just 15.0-percent from beyond the arc.
This is not the Aaron Gordon the team needed. Even his defense was slipping some.
There were pockets where he would play well. Pockets where he would look like the Gordon the team needs. But it was hardly consistent or long-lasting.
And never as long-lasting as it was even in just the third quarter of Monday’s game.
Gordon was on from the moment the second half tipped off.
He drained a 3-pointer off a dish from Markelle Fultz in secondary transition. He came free for a lob from Fultz for a two-handed jam on a slip from a pick and roll. He slipped to the corner for a 3-pointer while Larry Nance Jr. waited to try to stop Michael Carter-Williams’ drive. Gordon then followed Fultz on a short roll and hit a mid-range jumper as the defense collapsed around Gordon.
He finished his run with a transition three off a feed from Fultz. In no time during his scoring binge in the third quarter or did he overdribble. Everything was about how he read spacing and came free for shots. It was about quick decisions and confident shooting.
The lid was off for Gordon and the Magic were able to find him in rhythm in areas where he could shoot and react quickly. He was playing in the flow, as he described it.
That proved to be the difference in a night that was otherwise extremely sloppy at times. The Magic defense buckled down and that little push in the third quarter gave Orlando the lead it needed to create some distance and separation.
This is what an active Gordon can do. This has been the biggest element missing for the Magic. The dynamic playmaking and versatility Gordon can give the team.
Who is to say if it will continue. At this point in his career, relying on Gordon to become a scorer has been something of a folly. Gordon has struggled to create consistency with his offense.
Certainly with Evan Fournier currently out, the Magic will need Aaron Gordon to step up his offensive game as he did Monday night.
But a lot of that came within the flow of a working offense. He got his points by finding space and filling in and providing energy and rhythm to an offense that has found it sometimes lacks it.
More importantly, they got the win.
"“Winning is the only thing that matters,” Gordon said after Monday’s game. “However you get there, however you get to that point. It’s the only thing that matters. It doesn’t matter who has what stats. At the end of the game, if we can have another win in the win column, that’s the most important thing.”"
It does not matter how much Gordon scores. they certainly need him to be a threat from the outside and a factor in transition.
Rather what matters from Gordon is the aggressive energy and flow he creates when he is successful like this. That has been something missing from the Magic.
When the Magic’s offense, the ball finds Gordon and he executes and scores.
Health has helped Gordon rediscover this rhythm again. It has lifted the lid off his potential and what he can do. And given the Magic a much-needed boost.
One they hope will continue.