The Orlando Magic could see the win go through the basket a few times. Peaking in and taking a quick exit to give the Indiana Pacers a chance.
Those little moments creating a frustrating what-if for a team that has seemingly found a spark in its last two games and a team playing with unusual offensive confidence. There just was not quite enough to get over the finish line.
Leading by two in overtime, Evan Fournier and Nikola Vucevic ran the pick and roll play that had been reliable for the team down the stretch in regulation and in overtime. But Evan Fournier’s shot rimmed in and out, seemingly going halfway down before deciding to fall no good.
The Pacers took the ball to the other end of the court and ran their pick and roll play that was so reliable. The Magic walled up the paint, but Evan Fournier moved too far off of Malcolm Brogdon, who fired for three and the win with two seconds remaining.
Fournier got a decent look after pump faking himself open and stepping through for a 3-pointer. But that too fell no good.
The Indiana Pacers rallied both in regulation and in overtime to defeat the Orlando Magic 120-118 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Getting to that point was a battle in itself for the Magic. They did a lot of good things throughout the game after a slow start defensively and with turnovers early.
Every player seemed to have a turn making big play after big play. Starting with Evan Fournier throughout the game, moving on to Aaron Gordon leading the second unit early in the fourth quarter to retake the lead and then Nikola Vucevic and Terrence Ross helping to finish things.
Orlando made 17 of 37 3-pointers to help pace the team offensively. It seemed like Orlando was always able to get the shots it needed to keep up.
But the Magic struggled in several aspects they should be able to control. They made just 15 of 24 free throws, negating an advantage they created attacking the Pacers’ pressure defense. Fournier himself missed a critical front end of a free throw trip that helped set up the Pacers comeback. Ross too missed a critical free throw late too.
The Pacers also took advantage of every single one of the Magic’s 14 turnovers it seemed. And down the stretch in overtime, the Pacers ran pick and rolls to get in the lane almost every possession, setting up Domantas Sabonis with deep post position or Malcolm Brogdon for floaters.
The Magic can definitely point to these mistakes for why they ultimately lost the game or why the game got into overtime. The disappointment the team felt after the game was palpable after so many missed chances to close the game out.
This is one the Magic will ask themselves what could have been as they seek some redemption in their upcoming four-game homestand.
It should go without saying at this point: The Orlando Magic are a significantly better team with Evan Fournier in the lineup. He is a big reason they were able to win the game Wednesday in Minnesota and a big reason the Orlando Magic were in it to the end against the Indiana Pacers on Friday.
He scored at seemingly all three levels, scoring a team-high 26 points on 8-for-14 shooting, including 4-for-8 shooting from deep (the last two obviously the crucial threes he missed). He added nine assists, lest you think he was not moving the ball as he is often criticized for.
Fournier did a lot of things well. And even if his final two shots were not the best shot choices, they are still shots he can make. If he makes the penultimate three to put the Magic up five, we are having a very different conversation.
But, the disappointment for Fournier will come in how he was able to manipulate the defense effectively for 12 free throw attempts and he came away with just six. In such a tight game that hurts. And in overtime, the Magic ran the same pick and roll play over and over again and never really got itself going without better ball movement.
Nikola Vucevic got his scoring line with 29 points and 12 rebounds. He certainly came up big with some heady plays, including picking the ball up off the floor and making a layup with a minute to play in overtime to give the Magic some breathing room they thought would be enough to win the game. Vucevic still got the shots he likes to take and hit some big ones throughout the game. And did his work on the glass too.
But he made only 10 of his 29 shots. It seemed like he — and generally the Magic — were forcing a lot of things, especially post-ups against smaller players. And he struggled to deal with the Indiana Pacers’ pressure on the block. Not to mention seemingly always having an eye out for Myles Turner.
Vucevic has greater expectations for his play these days. It can’t just be about numbers. And he has to find a way to contribute beyond his scoring and play efficiently most nights.
This experiment with Aaron Gordon as the team’s primary initiator is still a work in progress. There is no doubt about that. He still has moments where he looks unsure what to do and gets taken advantage of by craftier guards who just know he is not sure what to do with the ball. There are still long stretches where he initiates the offense too late into the shot clock. His six turnovers were a sign of how much he is still figuring out how to play the position.
Then there are long stretches where he seems to have complete control of the game and take advantage of mismatches as teams figure out what to do with an uber-athletic, 6-foot-9 guy handling the ball with ease. Gordon led the attack in the fourth quarter and consistently punished the Pacers’ in the post and with his pass. He finished with 17 points, nine rebounds and nine assists for the game.
He scored 12 of those 17 to start the game for the Magic, making four 3-pointers for the game. It was a solidly complete game. It might have been interesting to see him initiating offense late in the game with how much the Pacers struggled to handle him.
How did Cole Anthony follow up his game-winning shot against the Minnesota Timberwolves? A fairly quiet but eventful nine points on 3-for-7 shooting. He showed some really nice plays and the ability to get to the basket as always. But he had some misses at the rim that were simply from him playing too fast again. That part will come. The Indiana Pacers were attacking him defensively too. But he adjusted well.
Coach Steve Clifford opted to finish the game with Cole Anthony. It would have been nice to find a way to get him involved. But he was not a negative. In fact, Anthony had two huge rebounds that helped the magic stake their lead late in overtime. He is continuing to hold his own and gain confidence on the floor. It is hard to dislike Anthony’s game right now.
This was the kind of game where neither team could be wholly disappointed with how they played. Both teams put a lot into the game and had pockets where they played really well. The Orlando Magic will likely say they will win most games where they play like this for the majority of the game. The Pacers will likely say the same.
Indiana got its usual balanced scoring and moved the ball well to keep the defense off-balance. The Pacers made the Magic pay for every single mistake that they made as the Pacers usually do. But this game came down to making plays. A missed shot here or a made shot there. Orlando did enough to win and that is the disappointment on their end. The Pacers made the plays and stuck to what they do best to come back repeatedly. Orlando should be eager to see Indiana again later in the season.
The Magic are now 7-9 on the season, 10th in the Eastern Conference. The Orlando Magic return home for a four-game homestand beginning Sunday against the Charlotte Hornets.