Jacksonville Sports Day

MAGIC: Gordon Sits Out Blazers Game With Back Injury

PORTLAND – Another night, another super-human, superstar performance in the second half to down the tough-luck Orlando Magic in frustrating fashion.

Two nights after Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson seemingly made every big shot to lift the Golden State Warriors past the Magic, Orlando ran face-first into another superstar performance on Wednesday, resulting in yet another gut-punch of a loss.

Portland all-star guard Damian Lillard outscored Orlando all by himself in the third period, had a basket and two free throws in the crucial final seconds of the fourth period and finished with 41 points and a franchise-record 10 3-pointers as the Trail Blazers edged the Magic 115-112.

“That’s why they’re the best players in this league and (performances like those from Durant, Thompson and Lillard) are what they’re supposed to do,’’ said Magic center Nikola Vucevic, who had 20 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and two blocks before fouling out late in the night. “We knew that (Lillard) was acapable of something like that and it’s nothing new. We all know how good Lillard is and how good of a shooter he is, but even with that we still had a chance to win the game.’’

Lillard, who had 41 points against the Magic in October, was never better than on Wednesday when he made 13 of 22 shots, 10 of 15 3-pointers and five of seven free throws. He was so hot all night that his 10th 3-pointer – the most ever made in a game by Blazers’ player – hit off the back iron, bounced high into the air and fell through the net.

“I’d been struggling kind of shooting from three and I shoot a lot of them after practice, sometimes before practice, I’m shooting and shooting,’’ said Lillard, who came into the night shooting just 33.5 percent from 3-point range. “I knew eventually I would get hot and start making them. It just felt good, but I think a lot of that was because of us getting out and get some rhythm to the game. We stepped up our energy and I think the game just got better for us and it came within that.’’

For the Magic (9-11), the game was eerily similar to what happened to them two nights earlier in Oakland. In that game, Orlando twice led by 18 points, but it was undone when Durant pumped in 29 of his 49 points in the second half and Klay Thompson scored 19 in the fourth quarter of the 116-110 decision. This time it was Lillard, who helped Portland (13-8) snap a three-game skid and extend its winning streak over Orlando to five.

“It’s extremely frustrating and we have to win these games. That’s the bottom line,’’ said Magic forward Jonathan Isaac, who started in place of injured forward Aaron Gordon (low back stiffness) and finished with 16 points and seven rebounds. “That’s two nights and a couple of games when we haven’t been able to execute down the stretch. It’s something that we’re going to have to do if we want to be a serious team.’’

Lillard came into Wednesday averaging 31 points, 5.6 rebounds and 4.4 assists in his previous five games versus Orlando, and those numbers are on the rise following Wednesday’s performance. In his 14 career games against the Magic, Lillard has scored at least 33 points five times.

Lillard had 23 in the third quarter alone, sling-shooting Portland from down 11 seconds into the second half to up 11 by the start of the fourth quarter. By himself, he outscored Orlando 23-21 in the third period – a fact that infuriated Magic coach Steve Clifford. After the game, Clifford had the same message for his team as he did for the media – the Magic must become tougher to win games like the ones that they have lost on Monday and Wednesday.

“We gotta get tougher,’’ Clifford said before even being asked a question in his postgame news conference. “Come on, you play that offensive game against that team in this arena, you gotta win that game. You gotta get some loose balls and we’ve gotta block out once in a great while. They hammered us on the glass, they beat us to every loose ball, which is a major weakness for our team.

“We get our effort down to anything tough,’’ Clifford continued. “We play hard with the things that come natural to us. We moved the ball and we had good energy and all that. We gotta get tougher, that’s it.’’

Orlando (10-12) hung around late in the night thanks to some dreadful free-throw shooting by the Blazers. The Magic had the ball with 4.7 second remaining and a chance to tie, but Jonathon Simmons fumbled an in-bounds pass. A clock malfunction returned the ball to the Magic with nine-tenths of a second remaining, but they couldn’t get off a final shot, resulting in another crushing defeat.

Guard Evan Fournier scored 17 points and hit three 3-pointers, but he turned the ball over three times – twice in the final 90 seconds when Orlando was within one. On the first one, Fournier drove into the lane and attempted the throw the ball back only to have to swiped by Portland Al-Farouq Aminu. On the second one, Fournier was leading a three-on-two fastbreak and rather than throwing the ball to his right to Terrence Ross (10 points on five-of-16 shooting), he threw the ball to his left. However, a hustling Lillard (two steals and one block) stepped in front of D.J. Augustin (10 points and five assists). From there, Lillard pushed the ball ahead, ran off a Jusuf Nurkic screen and buried the floater that gave the Blazers a 113-110 lead with 55.7 seconds left to play.

“We had the opportunity to win the game and I turned the ball over twice. That’s the kind of plays that we’ve got to make if we want to win on the road,’’ said Fournier, who hit two 3-pointers in the final five minutes to keep Orlando within striking distance. “I have one drive and I try to pass it to (Vucevic) and I’m too short. The other one, I get a rebound and we’ve got three-on-two and I try to get it to DJ, but it was too late. When you’re down one with 40 seconds left, you’ve just got to make those plays. I feel responsible for that (loss) because we were in a good position to win.’’

Jonathon Simmons added 13 for a Magic team that lost despite making 51.9 percent of their shots and drilling 14 of 30 3-pointers. Portland had a 47-37 advantage on the glass and grabbed 13 offensive rebounds compared to just three for Orlando. Those effort plays allowed Portland to get off four more shot attempts and attempt 17 more free throws.

“We were able to score a lot, but our defense wasn’t what it was supposed to be,’’ Vucevic said, who did battle all night with Nurkic (16 points, 13 rebounds, five offensive boards and five assists). “We’ve just got to play with more physicality, especially on the rebounding part. We do a good of getting stops and then we let teams get offensive rebounds and those are just killers. So, we have to do a better job with that and play with a little more intensity. Obviously, tonight we didn’t have that.’’

Orlando was without Gordon, who was unable to play because of tightness in his lower back. He missed much of the second half of Monday’s game and hoped that treatment would allow him to play in Portland. Instead, he will try again in two nights in Phoenix.

The Magic’s daunting nine-night, five-game road trip will mercifully come to an end on Friday when they face the Suns. Orlando opened the trip with a lopsided loss in Denver, then whipped LeBron James and the Lakers in Los Angeles before falling in heartbreaking fashion to the Warriors. Now, they will be faced with trying to pick up the pieces following another disappointing defeat.

“It’s extremely important. It’s a must-win,’’ the 21-year-old Isaac said. “We have to go into Phoenix and take it. (The Suns) are not going to give it to us.’’

Fortunately for the Magic, Wednesday’s game closed out the season series between Orlando and Portland. The Blazers won 128-114 at the Amway Center on Oct. 25 when Lillard carved up the Magic defense for 41 points. Incredibly, he was even better on Wednesday night.

Orlando led by eight at intermission and pushed its lead to as much as 11 early in the third quarter before Lillard heated up to get the Blazers back into the game. Portland made eight of its first 10 shots of the second half – five of them 3-pointers by Lillard – as Portland drew event at 78. Lillard was far from done and by the time he finished pouring in 23 third-quarter points, Portland took a 95-84 lead into the fourth period. Lillard outscored the Magic in the third quarter, 23-21.

In a matter of 11 minutes of the third quarter, Orlando went from up 11 to down 11. They got outscored 40-18.

In the fourth period, Orlando got the game tied at 108 with 2:57 to play, but it promptly surrendered CJ McCollum’s only 3-pointer of the night. The Magic would get as close as one, but three straight turnovers – one by Isaac and two by Fournier – spoiled the chances at victory.

“Missed opportunities and bad reads on key plays,’’ Fournier said. “We can definitely get tougher. I don’t think we lack toughness at all. You can always get tougher. In that regard, we have to be the most physical team every time on the floor. Sometimes we’re not. In that regard (of needing to play with more physicality), I agree.

“It doesn’t matter if those (star) guys have good night because we still have the opportunity to win,’’ Fournier added. “Like I said, we’re down one, I have the ball and we have a three-on-two and I (messed) up and we lose the game. It’s that simple. If we had scored on that possession, we would have won. … Like I said, we had the opportunity to win and it doesn’t matter that Damian Lillard had (41) or not. He terrific, don’t get me wrong, but it was still winnable.’’

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