Big Willie Style: Veteran Green sets tone for Magic despite another loss
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Thankfully for all involved, Willie Green didn't have to resort biting someone's ear off Saturday night to awaken the Orlando Magic.
Green had suggested, tongue firmly in cheek, after the Magic's most recent loss that drastic measures associated with Mike Tyson rather than anyone in the NBA might be needed. But with the Magic down by as many as 27 points to the Dallas Mavericks and trailing by 18 entering the fourth quarter, Green responded with an effort so strong it caused coach Jacque Vaughn to keep rookie point guard Elfrid Payton out of the game the rest of the way.
Yes, the Magic ended up falling 108-93 for their eighth defeat in a row and 14th in their last 16 games. That didn't diminish the impact Green had in helping pull them within five points of the lead with just under six minutes remaining.
"I was definitely optimistic looking at the time and score," said Green, who had nine of his 13 points and all four of his assists in the final period. "But they kind of turned it up at the end. And that's a veteran team over there in the other locker room. They've done that time and time again, and they're used to doing it."
Green, Channing Frye, rookie Aaron Gordon and seldom-used Maurice Harkless were part of the group which got the Magic going on a night when they were without Victor Oladipo and chose not to use Nikola Vucevic at all in the fourth quarter.
When asked why that collection of players was so effective, Frye laughed and said, "You'd have to ask Willie. He was conducting the whole thing."
"He's just playing extremely hard," Vaughn said. "Every player makes mistakes throughout the course of the game. That's part of basketball. He's able to play through his mistakes and continue on to the next play and just giving you all-out effort of what he's got on both ends."
After failing to score more than nine points in any of his previous 27 games with the Magic, the 33-year-old veteran has recorded back-to-back double-digit efforts. The minutes behind Payton which used to go to Luke Ridnour have now fallen to Green, who thinks of his contributions as something that goes beyond the box score.
"You put me in any position, and I pretty much know how to execute," he said. "For me, that's what's important. It's not scoring. It's not rebounding or whatever. It's what I need to do at that moment."
Green found Frye for a 3-pointer that pulled the Magic to within five points. But they missed their next six field-goal attempts as the Mavs, who shot 56.8 percent for the game, won going away.
"You can't give yourself a 27-point hole against a contender and expect to come back, especially when they have firepower like that," Frye said.
"It's definitely frustrating not being able to sustain our play for 48 minutes or close to 48 minutes," Green added. "We've got to give ourselves a better chance. Getting down 20 or so points in the first half -- it's tough to beat teams in the NBA when you've got to dig out of a hole the whole game."
In terms of temperament, Green is the opposite of Ben Gordon, who was ejected by referee Kane Fitzgerald with 7:54 remaining for arguing a non-call too vociferously. But don't be fooled by Green's calm demeanor.
"We're just trying to get out there and be scrappy and fight because I'm tired of getting blown out on our home court," he said. "I'm tired of getting booed. And I'm sure everybody in this locker room feels the same."
With a 5-17 record at home and the third-worst overall mark in the Eastern Conference at 15-35, signs of optimism are hard to find. But Frye, who came off the bench after Vaughn put Tobias Harris back in the starting lineup, is keeping his head held high.
"I've been on some bad teams and not everybody wanted to play the right way," he said. "But everybody (here) wants to play the right way. It's just a matter of doing it all the time."
If not all the time, at least the Magic can try avoiding horrendous periodic letdowns.
"We just have brain farts out there that last maybe five or six minutes," he said. "And by that time, we're down 15 and now we have to play perfect. But just stick with us. These guys are playing hard."