The Phoenix Suns completed their East Coast road trip with a gutsy win, finding offense late when the Orlando Magic could not in a difficult game for both.
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The Orlando Magic were seeing time running short. Their defense did its job to keep the game close and give the team a chance to win late.
Trailing by one point, the defense just had to keep grinding and getting stops until that fateful moment the offense clicked in and scored just enough to bail the team out. That has been the formula for success in six wins, even if it was extremely ugly.
That moment would not come. And good offense can eventually beat good defense. That was the breakthrough for the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday at Amway Center in a 92-87 win.
Brandon Knight broke the deadlock with a step back 3-pointer to extend the lead to four points. Elfrid Payton tried to answer with a 3-pointer of his own. It fell no good. A definition of the night for the Magic in the loss.
No matter how good their defense played to keep them in the game, the offense just was never good enough, not consistently at least.
Orlando had to fight its way back into the game but could not muster enough to get over the top and score the home win.
“It’s frustrating,” Evan Fournier said. “We’ve got to find ways to score the basketball, period. I thought we played pretty good defense. That’s a team that scores a lot of points. We held them to 92. We are definitely getting better defensively. Clearly, the offense is the problem right now.”
The Suns indeed had scored 100 points in 13 of their past 14 games, a byproduct of the fastest pace in the league. And Phoenix tried to push the pace on Orlando. The Magic were good at getting back and setting up their defense. Particularly in the second half, Orlando did a good job containing dribble penetration and directing it where they wanted toward the help.
The way the offense goes shooting 36.3 percent from the floor, even missing some open jumpers, that is not enough. The Magic need some offensive support to get over the hump and win these games.
And late in the game, when the Magic needed to score and take advantage of the stops they were getting, they were unable to do so. The simplest act of making a shot eluded them. Not until it was too late and desperation sank in.
The Magic just do not have enough to muster up for wins, even when the score is to their liking and so low.
Nikola Vucevic finally started to look like Nikola Vucevic on offense. And with how he has improved on defense, the Orlando Magic suddenly had a pretty solid and, at least more, complete player on their back line.
Vucevic scored 21 points and grabbed 13 rebounds, making 10 of 15 shots. He did it in a number of ways too. Vucevic was good for a few post ups and scoring around the basket. He popped for his jumper. He even ran the floor well and made shots in transition by diving down the lane.
Defensively, Vucevic continues to look better. He was good about getting into position and challenging shots at the rim. He had a block to go with his defensive statistics for the game. Vucevic is still a liability when he has to go out on the perimeter and defend pick and rolls. Outside that, he played about as well as he could and has all season.
Serge Ibaka‘s roller coaster season has had its ups and downs. He looks like the player the Orlando Magic need to star in the paint on both ends one game, and then he disappears the next. Especially on offense.
Ibaka still made his presence felt defensively with three blocks. And he did some good things around the basket. But guarding stretch-4s like P.J. Tucker and Jared Dudley, Ibaka was a big non-factor on the defensive end.
And he could not take advantage of the smaller players guarding him on the offensive end. He made just two of his nine shots in the game and had five points to go with four rebounds. It was a forgettable and difficult game for Ibaka.
Evan Fournier poured in the points Wednesday with 25 points on 9-for-20 shooting. He was about as consistent an offensive option as the Magic had. And he did a good job protecting the ball and being generally smart with his drives.
Yet something was still off about Fournier. He missed a critical free throw late after he was fouled at the 3-point line (he drained the three, but the referees waived it off). And he did not seem to get others free. Fournier is not so good at assists anyway, but the Magic need him to try to set up other players sometimes. He still struggles in this area.
Defensively, Brandon Knight was average at best, scoring 12 points on 5-for-10 shooting. It was just sort of a ho-hum game for Fournier despite the big scoring mark.
Aaron Gordon keeps getting his opportunities with the second unit. He has yet to deliver truly besides a few highlight plays in transition and his always stellar defense.
Gordon was part of the team that held Devin Booker to 11 points on 4-for-10 shooting. His defense remains a strong suit in his arsenal and the reason he remains on the floor game after game.
Offensively, his decisionmaking on when to shoot and when to move the ball remains suspect. He scored nine points on4-for-11 shooting. He favored his pull-up jumper a lot, as he has throughout the season. These were not always the right way.
The Magic have to find new ways to get Gordon involved, particularly using his athleticism in space to make cuts and get around the basket. The Magic put Mario Hezonja back in to start the fourth quarter, marking some of the first minutes Gordon has played at power forward all season. That part of his game probably needs to return.
The Phoenix Suns wrapped up their road trip with the kind of gutsy performance that they have often lacked this year. The Suns want to pick up the pace and score a lot of points. And they tend to give up a lot of points on the other end.
This game was played the Orlando Magic’s way. And the Suns beat them at that game. They shot 45.2 percent from the floor. Alex Len dominated the inside with 17 points and 12 rebounds. Eric Bledsoe score 16 to overcome his own poor shooting.
Phoenix was relentless attacking the basket, even when it seemed futile and Orlando was corralling the drivers. It paid off in the end. The Suns had the offense they needed to pull out the win, getting the stops against a struggling Magic offense and finding the energy to win the game.