Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein /NBAE via Getty Images
Despite facing off against the Los Angeles Clippers — tied with the Oklahoma City Thunder for the best record in the NBA (28-8) — on the road, the Orlando Magic finally won a close game and snapped their season-high 10-game losing streak with a 104-101 victory.
During the losing streak, the Magic had lost six games by margins of five or fewer so they were bound to win one of these games. That it came against the Clippers, one of the best crunch time teams in the league this season thanks in large part due to Chris Paul, is ironic.
What makes the win even more impressive for Orlando is that they trailed for the majority of the game. That’s because, for three quarters, Blake Griffin did whatever he wanted offensively and dominated on that end of the floor.
For all the talk of Griffin being just a dunker, he made his critics look foolish with his performance against the Magic.
Orlando’s frontline was helpless, as Griffin scored at will primarily on the left and right blocks as well as in pick-and-rolls. Yes, he had a few dunks in transition but those plays were mere footnotes to his display of offensive versatility.
Does a dunker face up against Nikola Vucevic on the left elbow, back him down on the left block, and make a lefty hook?
And when Griffin wasn’t too busy scoring, he was doing a tremendous job of picking apart the Magic’s defense with his passing. Time and again, Griffin showed remarkable patience on offense, making the right read and finding the open man.
Does a dunker face up against Vucevic on the right block, notice Arron Afflalo looking to double him in the post, and make a diagonal pass to Matt Barnes for an open three-pointer from the left wing?
With Los Angeles leading 83-75 heading into the fourth quarter, Griffin showing no signs of slowing down (he had 30 points, eight rebounds, and six assists after three quarters), and Paul content with playing the role of facilitator for the time being (knowing he can take over at any time), it seemed like the deck was stacked in the Clippers’ favor.
But Orlando never gave up and their persistence paid off in the end. Led by Afflalo and J.J. Redick, the Magic stormed back in the fourth quarter and took their first lead of the game, 102-99, after a Redick three-pointer from the left wing with 42.1 seconds left.
Paul responded with a stepback midrange jumper from the right elbow. On the ensuing play, Jameer Nelson’s shot was blocked by Lamar Odom as he got into the lane. The Clippers picked up the loose ball and Paul started a fast break — in other words, the worst-case scenario for Orlando.
Paul passed the ball to Jamal Crawford in transition. Despite having Barnes wide open in the right corner for a three-pointer, Crawford drove to the basket. One problem. Crawford was out of control and lowered his right shoulder to Redick, who established position and drew an offensive foul. Crawford waited too late to make the kick-out pass to Barnes.
On the ensuing possession, Los Angeles compounded their mistake by not intentionally fouling Josh McRoberts fast enough, who was able to pass the ball to a wide open Nikola Vucevic for a dunk.
Trailing 104-101 with 8.1 seconds remaining, Crawford missed a contested three-pointer from the left wing and the Magic escaped Staples Center with an improbable victory — much like their win against the Los Angeles Lakers earlier this season.
MVP (Most Valuable Player)
Afflalo had his best game of the season, finishing with 30 points, seven rebounds, and seven assists including 10 points in the fourth quarter. His four-point play with Orlando trailing 95-89 set into motion the come-from-behind win.
That Was … Puzzling
Despite dominating the Magic’s frontcourt, Griffin did not attempt a single shot in the fourth quarter. Paul was used as a decoy on Los Angeles’ final play of the game. Head coach Vinny Del Negro’s awful late-game management cost the Clippers dearly.