Pacers’ issues closing out fourth quarter continue in 121-116 loss to Magic

Domantas Sabonis backs down the Magic's All-Star center Nikola Vucevic. Sabonis scored ten points.
Brian Spurlock

INDIANAPOLIS  — A perennial lottery team in recent years, the Orlando Magic enter the final days of the season believing they are on the verge of returning to the postseason.

Aaron Gordon had 23 points, 10 rebounds, and seven assists Saturday night, and the Magic racked up a season-high 37 assists in a 121-116 win over the Indiana Pacers to keep pace in the Eastern Conference playoff race.

“We’ve got a lot of talent,” Gordon said. “We have faith in ourselves. That’s the only thing you need. Obviously, you want your coaching staff and fan base behind you, but when you have faith in yourself, that’s all you need.”

Coming off a blowout loss at Detroit that snapped a six-game win streak, Orlando got back on track with a relentless attack. The Magic shot 51 percent from the field and finished with only seven turnovers.

“Our offense, to me, was good all night,” coach Steve Clifford said. “(The Pacers) are terrific defensively. We had good energy, good ball movement. We couldn’t stop them, either.”

Darren Collison posted 24 points and nine assists for the Pacers, who shot 53 percent from the field but committed 15 turnovers in losing to the Magic for the third time this season.

“Unacceptable,” Collison said. “It’s a tough loss, but it was inexcusable. We have to really understand what we’re trying to accomplish. At times, we show we’re this gritty team and covering for each other, and sometimes it seems we have miscues and breakdowns.”

At 38-39, the Magic sit a half-game behind Miami for eighth place. The Heat, 38-38, won 100-92 Saturday at New York. Orlando last made the playoffs in 2012.

“We don’t know how good we can be,” said Khem Birch, an unheralded second-year big man who chipped in 10 points off the bench. “That’s what (Clifford) told us after the game. A lot of people don’t know that we’re a good team.”

Gordon connected on a 3-pointer with 1:53 left that provided a 115-106 edge. He had help from Nikola Vucevic, who scored 19 points, and former Indiana guard D.J. Augustin, whose twisting layup restored a seven-point edge with 29 seconds to play.

Augustin finished with 11 points and 10 assists. Terrence Ross added 16 off the bench for Orlando, which trailed 57-56 at halftime and 92-90 after three quarters.

Indiana, at 45-32, remained tied for fourth place with Boston, which fell 110-96 at Brooklyn. The Pacers host the Celtics on Friday.

TIP-INS

Magic: In their first year under Clifford, the Magic’s improved defense entered Saturday eighth in the league in points allowed per possession. They had finished 20th and 24th respectively the past two seasons under former Indiana coach Frank Vogel. … Orlando shot 14 of 23 in the first quarter and led 32-28 at its conclusion.

Pacers: Indiana dropped both home games against Orlando, which also won 117-112 on March 2. That game featured 10 ties and 12 lead changes. There were nine ties and 18 lead changes Saturday. … Bojan Bogdanovic finished with 22 points. Myles Turner had 16 points and 12 rebounds. … Without All-Star guard Victor Oladipo, out for the season with a right knee injury, Indiana is 5-12 in its past 17 games.

UP NEXT

Magic: Play at Toronto on Monday night.

Pacers: Host Detroit on Monday night.