The Orlando Magic stole a game on the road thanks to a frantic fourth-quarter comeback and a game-winning shot from Cole Anthony.
The Orlando Magic scored only 10 points in the second quarter and gave up a 24-1 run. They trailed by 20 points early in the third quarter. They trailed by 10 points entering the fourth quarter. They trailed by five with two minutes to play.
There were so many times the team could have given up, packed it in and been done for the day. There were so many times the team could have given into frustration — and, to be sure, for a while in the second quarter they almost certainly did.
They could have put up the good fight and still come up short, as it looked like they might when Evan Fournier fed the ball to Aaron Gordon at the top of the key and he missed a wide-open three-pointer for the lead with less than 10 seconds to play.
Orlando just needed a sliver of a chance and even that might not be enough.
After Aaron Gordon missed that 3-pointer, the Magic fouled Jarred Vanderbilt with four seconds left. The rookie is a poor free-throw shooter. The Magic would need one miss.
He missed the first. Then missed the second, the ball bouncing high enough off the rim for Jarrett Culver to tip the ball out. The door was open as Cole Anthony corralled the rebound near the 3-point line and raced up the floor.
There was not much time to do anything else. The rookie faded toward the wing and fired, his body twisting in the air.
And it was good. The Magic took the opportunity their defense created with an incredible comeback effort for a 97-96 win over the Timberwolves at Target Center on Wednesday.
Orlando seemed certain to take a seventh straight loss. Questions were growing about how this team was going to turn the corner. They could point to themselves and all the mistakes they were making.
But they stuck with it. They scrambled and defended. And they did the most important thing — they gave themselves the chance to win.
All you need to do is score one more point than the other team. The Magic kept that in mind as they scrambled to get back into the game. And they found themselves taking home a cathartic and much-needed win.
Cole Anthony hitting the game-winning shot would probably be enough to get some glowing reviews and buzz around the league. It was a big moment and crystallization of what his potential might be. The rookie has had his struggles to start his career and he needed this confidence-boosting moment.
But Anthony’s game was actually really good beyond just that shot. He seemed to fit a whole lot better into the lineup with Evan Fournier out there with him, giving another shooter and ball-handler to ease some pressure and simplify his game. And he delivered — 13 points, 5-for-7 shooting, seven rebounds. Anthony actually had a big shot before his 3-pointer, hitting a three with 35 seconds left that made it a two-point game. This kid has fought through a lot and seems to be finding his place.
Nikola Vucevic has a lot on his plate as the unquestioned offensive leader of this team. He scored plenty — 28 points, eight rebounds and four assists. He put up numbers early with 12 quick points that seemed to preview a big game ahead. And he finished the game strong too as the offensive outlet the team needed.
But the second quarter showed where Nikola Vucevic still has to grow and improve as a primary option. With the Magic’s offense stuck and desperate for points, they tried to go to Vucevic in the post and he missed a lot. He admitted in the second quarter he was forcing and rushing things to help his team get out of the hole. The responsibility Vucevic is facing, unfortunately, is to be a consistent and efficient offensive option throughout the game. Especially in the worst times.
Evan Fournier returned to action for the first time since Dec. 31 because of back spasms. And his presence was very much needed. Just the threat of his shooting seemed to unlock the offense early on and the team was clearly energized and focused to execute. Even if they were making it a special point to get Fournier going.
Fournier finished with 24 points on 9-for-21 shooting. He made only two of his nine 3-pointers. It was clear he was still searching for his legs especially as the game went on. But he remained active and involved throughout the game. He was one of the Magic’s best offensive options throughout the game. Which is saying something for a player coming off a prolonged absence with little practice time.
Aaron Gordon is playing some incredible defense right now. The Orlando Magic put him on D’Angelo Russell down the stretch and Aaron Gordon locked him up at the most important parts of the game. He recorded a huge block off a floater from Russell that helped the Magic stay in the game late. He was dialed in on that end and it is undoubted he is playing some great basketball on that end.
Offensively, Gordon is still looking for his place again. He struggled with his outside shot — most notably the potential game-winner. He made only three of nine shots for 13 points. But more importantly, he struggled to organize the team offensively. The second-quarter dip started with Gordon at point guard and he was overdribbling and turning the ball over — four of them, although against seven assists. If the Magic are going to keep running Gordon as the leader of that second unit, he has to find some efficiency.
The Minnesota Timberwolves did some uncharacteristically good things they should be able to build off if they can make it consistent. Their defense has struggled all year, but they played with energy and length to frustrate and rush the Orlando Magic, especially in the second quarter. They forced five second-quarter turnovers and 11 for the game against the usually stingy Magic. The Wolves also made 15 of 35 3-pointers, something the team usually struggles with.
But the result is still the result. When you lose a 20-point lead and seem to be unable to make the plays down the stretch, that deserves some soul searching. Minnesota had plenty of fight but could not score effectively enough in the second half to keep the Magic at bay. Their star players got going and it still was not enough. Minnesota was poor defensively especially in the fourth quarter as Orlando increased its urgency.
The Magic are now 7-8 and ninth in the Eastern Conference. They will complete their road trip on Friday against the Indiana Pacers.