The Orlando Magic finally got a few breaks and finally executed down the stretch to down the Brooklyn Nets for their second straight win.
The Orlando Magic have needed a break late in games — especially against the Brooklyn Nets. Or, better, they needed a break they could take advantage of and get over the hump with their late-game foibles against this franchise in particular.
The best teams make their breaks. But when a mistake comes your way, you take advantage of it.
So as Joe Harris went sprawling, running into his own teammate and Evan Fournier rounded the corner, he took a beat, perhaps a bit surprised to be so open. He took his time and drained a 3-pointer. Something much needed for a player struggling to do things he has relied on for most of his career.
That proved to be a big play. The kind of play the Magic have given up themselves or squandered at other times. Finally, that confidence was back.
And the Magic never let it go, riding All-Star center Nikola Vucevic to the end with some key shots and key moments. Saying the Magic are surging is a bit much after a two-game win streak, but it is hard not to be impressed with these pair of wins. The latest an 102-89 victory over Brooklyn at the Amway Center on Saturday.
The Magic shot just 43.6 percent from the floor and 10 for 27 from beyond the arc. It was hardly an offensive showing worth writing home about. That is not usually a formula to defeat the Nets.
But Orlando was sharp defensively most of the night. The only times Brooklyn got itself going offensive was when Orlando stopped moving the ball in the second quarter and Brooklyn could get out in transition.
The Magic tightened that up in the second half and kept the attack going aggressively to keep the Nets from the easy shots they were accustomed to. Brooklyn shot 36.3 percent and 10 for 38 from beyond the arc.
The Magic never let them find a rhythm and were much better keeping D’Angelo Russell and the other guards out of the lane. Brooklyn had 18 turnovers — five from Russell — and that gummed up the team’s offense.
Orlando needed a game where its defense led the way. That is the kind of groove and identity that will be necessary to keep winning. The Magic played a strong game throughout and had control for much of the game. Putting the finishing touches on the Nets for a change.
Vucevic kept attacking the paint and showed a willingness to get into the lane. He backed down Allen and made quick moves that went in. He made 12 of his 22 shots to score 24 points, adding 12 rebounds. His decisive moves offensively and shot making helped the Magic ice the game.
Defensively, Vucevic was the best he has been at warding off players in the lane that he has been in several weeks. He did a good job positioning his arms and hands to block driving and passing lanes and slowed down drivers enough for ball handlers to recover while largely being able to rotate back and challenge. That is how he recorded three blocks.
Jonathan Isaac recorded 10 points, 12 rebounds, three steals and three blocks. He picked up those defensive numbers with ease, using his length and speed to make an impact. Again, he was simply everywhere and he was willing to mix things up on the glass physically. Opponents just cannot go at him.
Offensively, there is still a ways to go. He was 3 for 8 from the floor. But his aggression and confidence are sky high. He is taking a few bad shots, but the fact he is confident enough to take them is a positive sign. The energy he is bringing is worth those growing pains. And Isaac seems to be getting a lot better quickly.
Iwundu finished with 10 points and six rebounds on 4-for-8 shooting. He was shooting confidently and playing under control for most of the second half. Defensively, he was able to grind and be disruptive. He brought some great energy to the game.
That was something he was not doing in the first half. In the first half, he looked a little sluggish. So it was more impressive that he turned things around and played at a higher proving to be a key factor for the team.
Aaron Gordon made just 6 of his 17 shots. He too often settled for midrange jumpers without moving the ball. The Brooklyn Nets in the second quarter especially did a good job keeping the Orlando Magic on the perimeter. Gordon fed into that trap.
He was better in the second half and still finished with 15 points. His shot selection was a lot better and he dialed back his aggression, realizing he did not have his shooting rhythm in this one and others were picking up the slack. Give Gordon credit for that recognition and facilitating for others. But he still has to work on his efficiency.
Brooklyn was cold throughout the game and could not get to the line or into the paint consistently. The Nets had only 36 points in the paint and the 3-point shooting was not loosening things up on the inside. The Magic did a good job protecting the lane and challenging to the perimeter.
This started to reveal their defensive weaknesses. Eventually, it was that which fell apart for Brooklyn and Orlando was able to zoom ahead.