ORLANDO, Fla. — It may have been Jameer Nelson’s birthday, but it was Victor Oladipo’s party.
Nelson was far from the only person who aged over the final 14 nail-biting seconds as Oladipo — the rookie from Indiana — willed the Orlando Magic past the Indiana Pacers for their second improbable victory in as many games.
Oladipo’s slap of a loose ball out of harm’s way following Paul George’s missed jump shot sealed the 93-92 win Sunday night.
About the only thing Oladipo couldn’t do was convince a group of reporters in the Magic locker room to sing a chorus of "Happy Birthday" to his 32-year-old teammate.
His hard work spoke volumes in a fourth quarter in which Oladipo scored 13 of his team-high 23 points and pestered the Pacers on defense.
"It might sound simple," he said. "It might sound kind of plain. But that’s really what it is. We just played harder today."
The Magic’s ability to erase another 17-point deficit — in Oladipo’s eyes — was as much of a testament to coach Jacque Vaughn as anyone in uniform.
"I know we played, but he has a competitive edge to him too," Oladipo said. "And he kind of feeds off us. Today going into the fourth quarter, he simply told us, ‘Whoever plays the hardest is going to win the game. If you really want to win, you’ll play harder than them.’ And that second unit just went out there and just played hard, played together."
Oladipo’s steal and subsequent three-point play 17 seconds into the fourth quarter cut the Pacers’ lead to 74-67 and gave an indication of further things to come.
"He’s going to keep coming at you," Nelson said. "He keeps you on your heels, and he’s on his toes, almost like a boxer. He does a great job for us in bringing energy, no matter what group he’s in and who he’s on the court with."
In his third consecutive game coming off the bench, Oladipo began the fourth with a group that included Kyle O’Quinn, Tobias Harris, E’Twaun Moore and Maurice Harkless. Nelson and Oladipo were on the court together for the final 2:57 when the Magic nearly saw their six-point lead with 1:04 remaining slip away.
But unlike Thunder superstar Kevin Durant the other night, the Magic didn’t loaf getting back on defense with the game on the line.
"What I did love was that when we turned the ball over, it was all of our guys running back and trying to do something on the defensive end," Vaughn said. "On Paul George’s shot, we had three guys trying to contest (the shot) and another guy trying to tap it out from underneath the boards. So I was impressed by that."
That other guy was Oladipo.
"I just tried to smack it so David West couldn’t get it," he said.
Added Nelson, who played fewer minutes than Oladipo: "When you play hard, you give yourself a chance. You never know what can happen. And in our eyes, we outworked them, especially in that second half."
After holding the Thunder to 14 points in the fourth quarter, the Magic allowed the Pacers 18 points over the final 12 minutes. While the fans in attendance might not have been as large in number or loud in decibel levels as during the Magic’s march to the NBA Finals five years ago, they were no less appreciative.
"The past two games, the crowd has been unbelievable," Oladipo said. "So if they continue to come out like that for every game, who knows what we can do?"