Orlando Magic Grades: Orlando Magic 112, Phoenix Suns 111

Evan Fournier scored the game-winning basket in what might have been his final game in an Orlando Magic uniform. Mandatory Credit: Mary Holt-USA TODAY Sports
Evan Fournier scored the game-winning basket in what might have been his final game in an Orlando Magic uniform. Mandatory Credit: Mary Holt-USA TODAY Sports /

38. Final. 111. 66. 112

The clock was ticking on the Orlando Magic.

Everyone has felt this for the week. The frustration of the entire season had been bubbling for a while, boiling over on several fronts on and off the court ahead of Thursday’s NBA trade deadline, an inescapable breaking point for a franchise that seems to have hit a dead end.

It was easy to stare at the end. Even after the Phoenix Suns scored six points and seemed poised to steal a game against a woeful Orlando Magic team, there had to be a sense that this was it.

If this Magic team was going to go out, they were going to go out fighting. This group had been together too long to go down with a whimper. They had fought too much and too hard to climb out of the basement of the league to just reach respectability for the last impression they gave Magic fans a disappointing loss.

A week ago, Evan Fournier frustratingly ripped off his jersey after turning the ball over on a high pick and roll with the game on the line. He was not making that mistake again.

Trailing by one point, Evan Fournier set up that same high pick and roll with his partner Nikola Vucevic. As he came off the screen, the Suns’ defense got caught on the screen enough and the lane opened up. He drove straight down the avenue and hit a tough lay-in over two defenders to give the Magic the lead with 10 seconds to play.

Orlando held on with a block on Devin Booker just before time expired.

Heading into a trade deadline that is sure to bring some change, the Orlando Magic scored a major victory on the back of one of their longtime players who seems destined to be on the move this week.

It will not make up for the frustration or lost potential of this season. It will not stop the trades that seem inevitable at this point for Thursday.

But for one night it felt exciting to have the team together. Everyone saw the effort and energy they play with and the desperation and drive they have to win, even if they do not have enough talent in the end to do more than make teh playoffs.

Orlando easily could have given up in this one. They went down early and trailed by double digits again in the first quarter. They slowly clawed their way back in with 3-point shooting keeping the team afloat. The Suns always seemed one big run away from putting the game out of reach.

But Orlando kept scratching and clawing. Eventually, Nikola Vucevic got going to pace the offense and Evan Fournier and others picked up the slack to finish the game.

Most importantly, Orlando locked in with the defensive intensity and effort that helped the team breakout and reach the playoffs. The Suns scored 20 points in the fourth quarter and Vucevic’s block was the final blow to seal the win.

The future is uncertain for this team. It almost does not matter. This team needed this moment with the prospect of change finally arriving.

EVAN FOURNIER. A. . G/F. Orlando Magic

If this was Evan Fournier’s last game in an Orlando Magic uniform, then bravo. After scoring a season-high 31 points in Tuesday’s loss to the Denver Nuggets, Fournier followed up with 21 points on 8-for-16 shooting and 4-for-9 from beyond the arc. It was not a sterling performance efficiency-wise, but Fournier stepped up in all the big moments.

There was obviously the game-winning basket but Fournier also scored seven on 3-for-4 shooting in the fourth quarter. He had 10 on 4-for-8 shooting in the second half. Fournier has had clutch bona fides throughout his time in Orlando. He quietly might have one of the best clutch records in team history. This was a fitting end if this is how it does end. Fournier was constantly trying to get to the basket and made plays when the team needed them.

B+. . C. Orlando Magic. NIKOLA VUCEVIC

Nikola Vucevic has been a steady drumbeat all season for the Orlando Magic. But in recent games, that beat has been off. His 3-pointer has fallen off at times and his efficiency has dropped. He still leads the team in scoring, but the Magic’s offensive struggles started from Vucevic taking his first dip in the season. Vucevic joked after the game as he struggled throughout the first half that he had a talk with the ball. That did the trick.

Vucevic scored 17 of his 27 points, making 11 of 19 shots and 3 for 5 from deep for the game, to lead the Magic back into the game and give them a solid foundation to get the win. Vucevic was critical in all phases of the game by the end of it, making some good defensive stops and hitting shots whenever he got the ball, including a few tough fadeaways over Deandre Ayton.

Vucevic’s defense was not its strongest throughout the game. He was dropping too deep which is a problem against a great mid-range jump shooter like Chris Paul. Vucevic got better as he got a bit more physical later in the game.

F. Orlando Magic. AARON GORDON. B-.

If this was Aaron Gordon‘s final game in an Orlando Magic jersey, it was a pretty nondescript game for the seventh-year forward. Gordon finished with 13 points on 5-for-15 shooting. He had seven rebounds and three assists. Aside from a few possessions where he was freelancing too much and taking wild jumpers, Gordon was solid but not exactly impactful.

He did some good things defensively. But he was not defending Devin Booker. He was late to challenge a few Jae Crowder shots early. But otherwise, he was part of the active defensive group that helped Orlando get back into the game.

. F. Orlando Magic. CHUMA OKEKE. A-

Chuma Okeke gave some sign of the Orlando Magic’s potential future with a career-high 17 points on a perfect 6-for-6 shooting and 4-for-4 shooting from deep. He was perfect as a spot-up shooter as he still does not seem comfortable to assert himself. But his confidence was showing as he stepped into those shots confidently. Okeke was key to the Magic getting back into the game in the first half. The Suns were willing to let him shoot and he made them pay.

Okeke was solid defensively too for the most part. He did a good job staying in front of his man. He got caught only once, but it was in a big moment. Coach Steve Clifford was going to let him finish the game, but he dove into the lane too much and gave up a game-tying 3-pointer to Jae Crowder late in the game. That got the rookie a quick hook. He is still learning how to read those situations. He will have to do better the next time.

B-. . 29-14. 2nd West. PHOENIX SUNS

The Phoenix Suns looked like they were ready to blow out the Orlando Magic early in the game. They were hitting threes and generally frustrating the Magic. They could not get into the lane. Then Devin Booker got into foul trouble and their rhythm was disrupted. Orlando got a little bit of a lifeline at that point and the team took advantage.

The Suns still almost ran away with the game. And so they are likely upset with their inability to get set defensively or some of the turnovers or other opportunities they missed in trying to finish the game. Phoenix made only 11 of 33 3-pointers, missing opportunities from deep to put the game away. That left the door open enough for the Magic and they grew in confidence to win it in the end.

Next. Orlando Magic trade value column 2021. dark

The Magic are now 15-29 and 14th in the Eastern Conference. They trail the Chicago Bulls by 4.5 games for the final spot in the Play-In Tournament. The Orlando Magic wrap up their homestand Friday against the Portland Trail Blazers.