Culture of Hoops

Nikola Vucevic’s big night: Magic defeat Bobcats in overtime

Image courtesy of RMTip21/Flickr

Image courtesy of RMTip21/Flickr.

Much like their last visit to Orlando, the Charlotte Bobcats got off to a piping hot start, jumping out 22-10 seemingly before you could blink. Their lead ballooned to 16 before the hosting Magic began to fight and claw their way back into it. Orlando, after a sluggish first quarter that saw them turn the ball over eight times, slowly began to find their groove on both ends of the floor.

A spirited rally in the third quarter saw the Magic cut the deficit to one, but Charlotte answered, pushing their lead back up in a blink of an eye. To their credit, the young, hungry Magic team didn’t give up, continuing to fight and push to try and cut the lead down. Cut the lead they did, pushing the Bobcats to their limit before finally grabbing their first lead of the game late in the fourth quarter.

Back and forth the division foes went, but not in a good way. Neither team was able to buy a bucket, it was like someone put a lid over both of them. Then, like the parting of the seas, shots started to fall … but only for Charlotte. Buckets from Gerald Henderson, Josh McRoberts and Kemba Walker, coupled with misses and a 1-of-2 trip to the line for Arron Afflalo, set the stage for the improbable to happen with Charlotte leading by three.

Out of the timeout Orlando had a chance for glory, a chance to send the game into overtime and win back-to-back games for the first time since early February, when they beat the Oklahoma City Thunder and Indiana Pacers. The stage was set, Kyle O’Quinn inbounded the ball, Afflalo caught, tried to create space, unable to. Then, the game’s savior came in the form of Nikola Vucevic. Vuceivc, who notched his sixth career 20-20 game, set a hard screen for the sharpshooting Afflalo, forcing Gerald Henderson to go under the pick, giving the UCLA grad just enough time to get a shot up.

It went up and fell through, the Amway Center went nuts; the Magic tied it up. However, their work was not over. They had to hold Charlotte one more time for a chance to play five more minutes. Walker had it, but was defended soundly by Victor Oladipo, the shot fell harmlessly off the rim, sending the game into a deciding overtime period.

In the extra period, Orlando looked the better team, knocking down timely shots and getting stop after stop on the defensive end. Charlotte was smothered, forced into tough shots, while Orlando held their lead and made their free throws down the stretch. When the final horn rang throughout the arena, the Magic were on top, taking home the victory, in overtime, 110-105.

After the game, coach Jacque Vaughn was asked how he felt his team responded after getting down early. “It was a great fight by all of the guys,” he said. “Whether it was the unit who started the fourth quarter and really got us going defensively to put up a defensive 16 point quarter against a team like that, or whether it was the mental fight of Nik (Vucevic) who starts out the game 4-of-14 from the field and doesn’t give in, wills his way, helps his team, continues to play throughout the course of the game, and ends up with 20 and 20. It’s pretty impressive in a lot of different ways.”

Vucevic, who led the Magic with a game-high 24 points, added a season-high 23 rebounds. “I started the game off kind of slow offensively,” he said. “But felt pretty good because I was able to rebound and was pretty active defensively. I knew at some point I’d turn it around, make some shots and I knew I got some easy ones and started feeling better. Just kept believing in my team, believing they’d pass me the ball and I was confident at some point.”

To the Magic’s credit, Vucevic got a lot of help, with five other players finishing in double figures and one, Maurice Harkless, finishing with nine. Afflalo (17), Tobias Harris (15), Oladipo (14), O’Quinn (13), and Jameer Nelson (11) combined to give the Magic a very balanced attack against a stout Bobcats defense.

Charlotte on the other hand had five players finish in double figures, including Josh McRoberts, who set career highs in points (24) and three-pointers made (6) on the night. While Kemba Walker went an abysmal 8-of-25 from the field, he joined McRoberts with 24, while big man Al Jefferson poured in 20. Wings Gerald Henderson and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist also finished in double figures, finishing with 14 and 10, respectively.

The victory showed Orlando’s ability to never give up. They were extremely active all night, out-rebounding Charlotte 57-36 and attempting 21 more free throws than the visiting Bobcats. They did the little things that you need to do to win, and it’s extremely rewarding for the young team to see some of their hard work and dedication pay off with wins over two teams who are poised for the playoffs.

Orlando continues it’s homestand on Sunday night when the Toronto Raptors come to town for the first and only time this season. Charlotte will have the weekend off, as they next play Monday night against another divisional foe: the Washington Wizards.

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