ORLANDO, Fla. — Tobias Harris had no idea he was about to become a hero Friday night for the Orlando Magic when the ball ended up in his hands with virtually no time left on the clock.
In the madness which ensued after Victor Oladipo chased down a long rebound off a miss by Oklahoma City Thunder superstar Kevin Durant and passed the ball up ahead to Maurice Harkless, Harris was prepared to go into grateful teammate mode. But Harkless had something else in mind with the Magic down by a point and the horn about to sound.
"I passed it to Mo, and I thought Mo was going to shoot the layup," Oladipo said. "Mo throws it back, and I’m like, ‘Who is he throwing it to?’"
Turns out he was throwing it to Harris, whose dunk withstood an officials’ review after the Magic bench erupted in jubilation and gave Orlando a 103-102 victory over the team with the best record in the Western Conference.
"I was running down there and I was about ready to congratulate Mo," said Harris, who had made only five of his previous 16 shots and was guilty of a crucial five-second inbounds violation with 1:20 to go. "Then he kicked it to me. I was happy it went in. It all worked out for us."
"I thought we were going to run out of time," said Kyle O’Quinn, who was part of the celebration near midcourt. "But Tobias, we knew he’s going one place, and that’s the rim."
While the Magic had won three home games in a row, those victories all came against teams which are bound to join them in the NBA draft lottery. But to erase a 17-point deficit against the Thunder and hold them to 14 points in the fourth quarter makes this streak something worth noting.
"We were all just fighting for each other, all helping each out there on the floor," Harris said. "And that’s what it’s about. We bought into our game plan in the second half. We had a better focus than in the first half."
Harris was the only Magic starter on the floor when they began the fourth quarter with a 13-2 run. Harris, Oladipo and Harkless played the entire final 12 minutes in a game where the Magic’s bench outscored the Thunder’s reserves 36-23.
"It was good to see the expressions on the young guys’ (faces)," said Arron Afflalo, who had a quiet 16 points. "That was very fulfilling for me, just to see the happiness and joy in their eyes."
The Magic’s record in games decided by three points or less had been only 3-6. Until Harris’ dunk, they scored only four points over a six-minute stretch. Two of those were on free throws by Afflalo, who went only 2 of 3 from the line after Serge Ibaka fouled him from behind the 3-point line.
But Durant was only 1 of 7 from the floor in the final period. The last of his misses resulted in the biggest rebound of Oladipo’s young career.
"KD got a great look that he normally makes," Oladipo said. "I was trying to get a rebound, and it came off long. I just knew there was somebody right next to me that was trying to get the same ball. And I just had to do what it took to get it."
While the records of the two teams couldn’t be much more opposite, the Magic took the Thunder down to the wire two months ago in Oklahoma City.
"We didn’t play our best game turnover-wise down there, and it was still a three-point game," Afflalo said. "We had a shot with three seconds to tie it there. So we knew we had a chance tonight."
On a night when the Magic honored Jeff Turner and Sam Vincent, two members of their very first team, they pulled out an unexpected win reminiscent of some of the surprising victories from that expansion year.
"I felt like I was in college again," O’Quinn said. "To see the whole team jump up and the excitement, it felt good."
"We’ve gone through a lot," said Oladipo, who ran the offense in the fourth quarter while Jameer Nelson sat on the bench. "We’ve lost a lot of games. It’s tough, man. We’re a talented group of guys, and it just seems like we’re struggling to get a win. But coming together today and grinding out this win against one of the best teams in the league, it was big for us. Now we’ve just got to build on it."