Team Meeting Helps Inspire Magic to Win Over Celtics
By John Denton
Jan. 19, 2014
ORLANDO – Stuck in the throes of an ugly losing streak and coming off a winnable game that slipped through their fingers two nights earlier, the Orlando Magic had an emotionally charged team meeting on Saturday where they discussed the need to make radical changes in their approach.
At some point in that meeting, which included both the players and the coaches, veteran guard Arron Afflalo stood up and had a rather harsh assessment of the squad.
``We told ourselves that whatever we were doing, it’s not working,’’ Afflalo said. ``So it was time to make a change now or it was going to be a freefall.’’
Desperate for a victory after dropping the previous 10 games, the Magic made several changes for the better on Sunday night. Gone, Afflalo said, were the personal agendas and stat-grab plays that had been prevalent of late. This time around, the seminal moments in the game revolved around Glen ``Big Baby’’ Davis and Victor Oladipo diving on the floor for loose balls, Afflalo mixing it up for 13 rebounds and the Magic valiantly scrambling defensively on the last possession of the game. And when the Magic frustrated the Boston Celtics and didn’t even allow them to get off a shot on the final play of the night, Orlando was able to win 93-91 and shed its 10-game skid.
``The emphasis is on competing for wins and tonight I thought we did that,’’ said Afflalo, who had 20 points to go with his career-best-tying 13 rebounds. ``I could feel no personal agendas and all I could feel was five guys on the court and the two guys off the bench really looking for a way to get a victory tonight.’’
With the victory secured, the Magic (11-30) congregated at the free throw line for a somewhat emotional scene. It was there that they congratulated each other on playing the best game in weeks and sticking to the mantra of playing for one another.
``It’s just one win, but at the same time it was a win to be excited about,’’ said forward Tobias Harris, who drilled the two game-winning free throws with 10.1 seconds left to break a 91-all tie. ``It was a step in the right direction from (Friday). We had a goal and that goal was to push each other. We did that tonight and it was exciting to win and we want to build on this. So our next game will be a good test for us.’’
With the victory Orlando was able to corral its first win of the 2014 calendar year. The Magic had last won a game on Dec. 29 at home against the Detroit Pistons. In that time, Orlando dropped two crushing overtime games and lost all five last week on a difficult West Coast trip without starting center Nikola Vucevic (concussion). Orlando had lost the previous 12 games this season with Vucevic out injured, but won tonight for the first time.
Magic head coach Jacque Vaughn took great delight in seeing the Magic make several clutch plays down the stretch and then celebrate together at the free throw line as the final horn sounded.
``I think it was just great to see us kind of grind out that game from beginning to end,’’ said Vaughn, who shortened his rotation to just seven players because of matchups with the Celtics (14-28). ``And to be able to answer out of timeouts. We had execution with winning plays at the end such as diving on the floor. So it was just a great effort overall from the guys.’’
Veteran Magic point guard Jameer Nelson (16 points and 10 assists) hit two free throws with 35 seconds left to give the Magic a 91-89 lead. After a Jeff Green basket and a missed free throw tied the game, Harris battled for a rebound with Kris Humphries, who was called for a personal foul. Harris calmly drilled two free throws with 10.1 seconds left for the winning points. Harris (18 points and seven rebounds) missed four free throws in the game, but the final two were true.
``Those were big free throw shots,’’ Harris admitted. ``Throughout the game I wasn’t shooting it well from the free throw line. Mentally, I just tried to regain focus and think about my preparation and what I had put into it. I just had the confidence that both of them were going to go down.’’
Orlando dodged a final possession when the Celtics (14-28) failed to get off a shot as Avery Bradley fired the ball out of bounds as the horn sounded. Close-outs on Green and Bradley prevented the Celtics from getting an open shot.
``When you are focused on winning the game and not on what you are doing individually you end up making those types of plays,’’ Afflalo said, referring to the defense on the final play.
``Honestly we made some mistakes on that last defensive play, but because the whole team was in tune with each other we covered for each other beautifully and they didn’t even get a shot off.’’
The Magic had lost the past 10 games to the Celtics, not beating them since Dec. 25, 2010. Eight of those losses came after Glen ``Big Baby’’ Davis left the Celtics in a sign-and-trade transaction and joined the Magic. Davis had 11 of his 17 points in the fourth quarter to steady the Magic throughout the final period.
Orlando’s 36 free throw attempts were its most since March 13, 2012, an overtime victory against the Miami Heat. The Magic made 29 free throws on Sunday, getting 27 makes from the starters.
Humphries, who is likely being showcased for a potential trade, had 18 points and 12 rebounds. Rajon Rondo had six points, six rebounds and four rebounds in limited minutes after coming back from knee surgery. Green added 22 points, but his free throw miss with 33 seconds left cost the Celtics.
The Magic are about to hit a difficult stretch of games over the next 10 days. The Magic fly to New York on Monday to face the Nets on Tuesday. They are back at the Amway Center on Wednesday to face the Hawks for a fourth time this season. After hosting the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday, Orlando departs for a three-game trip to New Orleans, Detroit and Toronto.
Orlando came into Sunday night having already lost twice this season to the Celtics. Boston snapped the Magic’s three-game winning streak early in the season when they won 91-89 in Orlando. The Celtics won 120-105 a week later in Boston.
Both of those games were without Rondo, who returned from 2013 knee surgery on Friday. He started against the Magic on Sunday, but he was once again on a minutes restriction.
``We all talked about playing for one goal and that was a victory,’’ said Magic center Kyle O’Quinn, who had 10 points, nine rebounds and a block off the bench. ``This was a big relief. We had to break (the losing streak) at some point and it was good that we broke it tonight on a team that we had to get a little revenge on. They kind of got at us when we played at their place, so this feels good.’’
Orlando suffered through a dismal third quarter but was still able to take a 66-64 into the fourth quarter. Orlando couldn’t handle prosperity early in the third quarter, blowing a nine-point lead when Boston went on a 13-2 run. The poor third quarter performance was similar to Friday when Orlando squandered a five-point lead to Charlotte in the third period and never recovered.
Orlando played with great energy and with a distinct sense of urgency in the first half and led 53-46 at intermission. Impressively, Orlando dug its way out of an early 11-point hole and dominated the game for much of the second quarter.
After scoring just 18 points in the first period, Orlando ran its way to 35 points in the second quarter. The Magic made 11 of 20 shots in the second period with seven of those field goals coming off assists. The Magic also got to the free throw line 13 times in the period with 12 makes.
Oladipo, who had nine points, six rebounds, two steals and two blocked shots, said the team took a major step on Sunday night by bonding together for a common goal. He said he could feel the sense of urgency to win throughout the game with plays that his teammates made. Now, he added, it’s just about repeating that again and again.
``Everybody wanted to win today and was eager to win. We’ve got to be like that every game,’’ Oladipo said. ``I think when you have a mindset of just playing hard from the jump you will play hard all night. And when your teammates have your back and they are positive it’s hard not to be involved, focused and locked in. When you go in and you feel like your teammates don’t have your back, then you tend to question and second-guess yourself and it tends to lead to negative things and bad body language. But when your teammates are positive … it gives you that second guard and that second juice. So we just have to be consistent with that.’’