The Orlando Magic, much to the chagrin of many of their fans, led for most of the game before nailing down a 115-111 victory. The win was Orlando’s 23rd on the season and, when coupled with the Boston Celtics loss to the Atlanta Hawks, hurt Orlando’s lottery chances by putting them in a tie with the plummeting Celtics.
From the start, it looked like Orlando was the much fresher and more prepared team, despite their seven first-quarter turnovers. Playing without Nikola Vucevic for the third straight game with a sore left Achilles, Orlando looked lost defensively inside early, giving up 14 points in the paint in the opening quarter of action. Despite some strong play from the Magic, Brooklyn took a two-point lead, 22-20, into the second quarter.
In the second quarter Orlando really started to pull away, thanks in large part to an explosion from combo guard E’Twaun Moore, who scored 14 straight points, including five three-pointers. Coach Jacque Vaughn was very complimentary of Moore’s play, saying, “That’s a great job first of all of him stepping up and making those shots and then also guys finding him. A lot of times that’s the hardest thing to do; you get a guy rolling and either you try hard to get to him or you don’t get the ball to him. I think overall the guys found him, and he did a great job of sprinting to his spot and knocking down shots.”
Not only was Moore’s coach happy for him, his teammates were as well. “It was pretty special what he was doing out there,” forward and bench-mate Tobias Harris said. “For him to be out there making shots like that, it kind of was discouraging the other team. So it helped us out a lot. You know he was due for a big night.”
Victor Oladipo was also happy for Moore. “Man, when he gets hot like that, it’s hard not to be excited and hard not to pass him the ball. When we shoot with him in practice, he’ll go for like 15, 20 in a row. He can really shoot the ball so when he gets hot, that’s really good for us. Even when I was playing against him at Purdue, it doesn’t really surprise me.”
While Moore’s big night was a boost for the Magic, they still had to fend off a Brooklyn charge. As the two came out of halftime, one where Orlando led by 12, the Nets looked sharper, knocking down shots and spreading out the Magic’s defense to allow them to get better looks. One of the biggest assets was their ability to knock down the three ball, making 6-of-11 in the quarter.
When asked about what the Nets did well in the third quarter, Vaughn said, “Overall I think we dogged a few shots early in the game with Mirza (Teletovic) and he missed some shots that he had. Their space; Marcus (Thornton) came into the game and made a couple shots, so overall they got a chance to get downhill on us and get into the pain which caused some problems but again we made a few adjustments and we were able to stay the course.”
In the final quarter, Orlando was forced to fend off multiple attempts to grab the lead and the game from the Nets. When they needed a big bucket, they turned to one of their leaders and the team’s leading scorer, Arron Afflalo, to knock down the big shot. The three-pointer, which extended the Magic’s lead, was arguably Afflalo’s biggest shot on his 25-point night, which was his highest output since February 21.
Despite the best efforts from seven-time All-Star Joe Johnson, the Nets were unable to rally and overtake Orlando on Wednesday night. Johnson took the game over in the second half for the Nets, scoring 19 of his game-high 31 in the closing half, including 12 in the final quarter.
Paced by Afflalo’s 25 points, five Magic men finished in double figures, with three others scoring eight and nine points each. The balanced effort really helped them take down the veteran-laden Nets. Joining Afflalo in double figures were Moore, who finished with a season high-tying 17 points, Tobias Harris, who scored all 16 of his points in the second half, Jameer Nelson, who tallied 14 points and seven assists, and big man Kyle O’Quinn. O’Quinn not only scored 13 points and grabbed eight rebounds, but also had arguably the biggest play of the game for the Magic, a block on a three attempt from Johnson late in the going.
Brooklyn on the other hand had five guys in double figures, but relied heavily on Johnson’s 31. The sharpshooting Teletovic joined Johnson, finishing with 17 in a spot start for the injured Paul Pierce. Off the bench, rookie big man Mason Plumlee finished with 16, but fouled out late in the game. The electric Thornton, whom the team acquired in a deadline-day trade with the Sacramento Kings, finished with 13, while former All-Star point guard Deron Williams struggled with his shot, finishing with 11 on an abysmal 3-of-14 shooting.
With Vucevic out, Orlando was able to get a look at rookie big man Dewayne Dedmon, whom the team signed for the remainder of the season after playing through two 10-day contracts. While he didn’t have a big impact on the game scoring, his smart basketball play and strong instincts made an impact on the game. Coach Vaughn raved about his ability in the pick-and-roll game on Saturday night, along with his ability to rebound the ball strongly and knock down a mid-range jumper. He finished tonight with a career-high nine rebounds, and had two key buckets for the team in the second half.
Both Brooklyn and Orlando return to action on Friday night. The Nets get the desperate Hawks, who are fighting and clawing for the final spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Orlando on the other hand will host the playoff-bound Washington Wizards at home Friday.