Magic Beat Thunder in Stunning Finish
By John Denton
Feb. 7, 2014
ORLANDO – When he and his Orlando Magic teammates are trying to simulate tense, game-ending situations in practice, Tobias Harris usually has a joke that elicits hearty laughter.
``I’m always the guy who says, `If you need a game-winner, throw it to me!’’’ Harris recalled with a chuckle.
But not even the ultra-confident Harris could have envisioned just how his game-winner would unfold Friday night for the surging Magic against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
All in the matter of a blurred 2.9 seconds, Victor Oladipo outfought two foes for a loose ball, passed ahead to Maurice Harkless, who somewhat shockingly flipped the ball back to a trailing Harris, who dunked as time expired. The frenetic final sequence – one that typified the kind of selfless play Orlando exhibited all night – gave the Magic a pulsating 103-102 victory that had the Amway Center crowd throbbing with raw emotion.
``It was good to get out there and back (his practice prediction) up and get the win,’’ a relieved Harris said well after the shocking victory.
So much went right on the final play for a Magic team that has now won four games in a row at the Amway Center and five of the last six at home. First, Orlando got the league’s hottest scorer, Kevin Durant, to miss a 17-foot shot with 4.9 seconds to play. Oladipo used his left hand to snag the long rebound and keep it away from Jeremy Lamb and Thabo Sefolosha. He wisely looked ahead and saw Harkless for what looked like would be a winning layup. Harkless felt his momentum carrying him under the backboard so he shoveled the ball to a streaking Harris for a two-handed dunk that left his hands with one-tenth of a second. Referees reviewed the final play and ruled it good, much to the delight of the joyous Magic.
Said Oladipo, who screamed `This is our court! This is our court!’ to the crowd after the fabulous finish: ``K.D. got a great look that he normally makes and it came off long. I just know that there was somebody right next to me trying to get the same ball and I had to do what it took to get it, really. I had to turn on the jets and it was just will. … I passed it to Mo and I thought he was going to shoot the layup, and when he throws it back, I’m like, `Who is he throwing it to?’ Tobias dunked it and luckily we got it in time. It was a gutsy play.’’
Joked Harris: ``I was a little bit (surprised by Harkless’ pass). I was running down there and I was about ready to congratulate Mo and he gave it to me. I was happy it went in and it all worked out for us.’’
Added Magic coach Jacque Vaughn: ``For Vic to come up with that loose ball, those are just me versus you and who’s going to get it (plays). Very impressive by him. And (Harris’ hustle) is just the competitive spirit. He was going to out-run whoever was next to him. And he was going to get to the rim and try to make a play for his team.’’
Harris led the Magic (15-37) with 18 points, while Arron Afflalo chipped in 16 points. Oladipo played the entire fourth quarter and finished with 14 points, five rebounds and three assists. Glen ``Big Baby’’ Davis added 14 points on seven of eight shooting and he had one of the biggest defensive plays of the game by drawing a charge with 1:06 to play.
But the most important effort of the night might have come from Harkless, who played the entire fourth quarter and almost exclusively guarded Durant, the NBA’s leading candidate for the MVP award following his scorching scoring in January.
Durant scored 29 points and tied a career high with 12 assists, but he missed six of seven shots in the final period with the lanky, 6-foot-9 Harkless checking him.
``I was just getting into him,’’ said Harkless, who had three assists, three rebounds and a steal in 21 minutes. ``(Durant) is a great player, so he’s going to make a couple of shots, but I just tried to make it hard for him and be into him and try not to let him get the ball so easy. I wanted to make him uncomfortable.’’
As for his game-winning assist, Harkless took some good-natured grief from his teammates after the game for refusing to put up that shot himself. But he defended himself by saying he, first, thought there was more time on the clock, and second, that Harris had a better look at the rim.
``My momentum was taking me behind the backboard and I felt like Tobias had the easier shot. I just didn’t know there was that little time and I thought we had more time, so that’s why I passed it,’’ Harkless recalled. ``It was a great feeling to come back and win a game like that against one of the best teams in the league. It’s just a great feeling.’’
About 90 minutes prior to the Magic’s showdown against Oklahoma City, Vaughn shrugged off the obvious matchups and pointed to his energetic bunch of reserves as the key to success on Friday night. During film review, Vaughn said OKC’s reserves often had broken open games and he wanted his bench players to at least play the Thunder (40-12) even.
As it turns out, Vaughn was dead-on accurate as his reserves sparked a huge fourth-quarter rally to keep the Magic in position to pull out the victory. Orlando’s bench outscored OKC’s reserves 36-23 – including a 15-2 advantage in the second half.
Harkless, who has played his way back into the rotation by bringing consistent effort off the bench, had the gutsiest request of the night. He played all 12 minutes of the fourth period – 10 minutes against Durant.
``It shows that (Vaughn) trusts me,’’ Harkless said. ``I didn’t guard (Durant) the whole game until the fourth quarter. I told coach I wanted to guard (Durant) and he trusted me at the end of the game. It worked out.’’
The Magic will be back at the Amway Center on Sunday night for a rematch with the surging Indiana Pacers. Orlando was within 60-58 of the Pacers in the third quarter in Indianapolis on Monday only to lose 98-79 because of a poor fourth quarter.
Orlando played as well offensively as it has all season, getting to as high as 57 percent from the floor at one point in the third quarter. Things were going so well that during a break in the action even a fan won $10,000 when he drilled a layup, a free throw and a 3-pointer at the buzzer to excite the Amway Center crowd of 15,595.
Incredibly, neither team missed a free throw in the first three quarters of the game. Both teams made their first 15 free throw attempts. The first miss of the night from the line came with 9:41 to play when Harkless misfired on his first try, but nailed the second.
Orlando opened the fourth period with reserves Kyle O’Quinn, Harkless, E’Twaun Moore, Oladipo and Harris and ripped off an 8-0 run to tie the game at 88. Minutes later, the Magic had a 93-90 lead – their first advantage since the game was 2-0 in the opening seconds.
Orlando clawed to within 88-80 by the end of the third quarter with some incredible offensive execution. The Magic made eight of their first 11 shots of the third quarter to boost their shooting percentage to an eye-popping 56.9 percent and draw within six of the Thunder. Davis made seven of his first eight shots to help the Magic score 38 points in the paint in the first three quarters.
Oklahoma City started strong and didn’t dip below the 60 percent mark until the Durant missed a fall-away jumper at the buzzer at the end of the second quarter. The Thunder shot 70 percent in the first quarter and were 20 of 31 (64.5 percent) at one point in the second quarter. That allowed them to blow out to a 65-51 halftime lead.
Vaughn said he couldn’t be prouder of his team because of the way it dug out of the early 17-point deficit and kept fighting all the way down to the final tenth of a second when Harris won it with the breath-taking dunk.
``What makes it impressive is we going into halftime on not the greatest note and for the guys to not hang their heads, make some adjustments and trust each other, it’s impressive,’’ Vaughn said. ``For the guys to continue to fight and press forward, I’m happy for them.’’