Someday, we’ll tell our grandchildren about this game.
We’ll tell them about the time that Wes Iwundu, on a night when Orlando needed someone to step up offensively, scored a career-high. The time that Markelle Fultz, on a night when Orlando played with just one point guard, recorded his first triple-double in a Magic uniform. The time that B.J. Johnson and Gary Clark, on a night when Orlando was missing five rotation players, played meaningful and impactful minutes. The time that Aaron Gordon, on a night when Orlando needed him to be aggressive, attacked the basket throughout and delivered two dunks that make you scream much louder than you should when its approaching midnight on the East Coast and you are in your 30s.
The time that the Orlando Magic, on a night when they seemingly stood no chance, defeated the mighty Los Angeles Lakers in what was easily their best and most thrilling win of the season. If you stayed up to watch, you are thankful that you did. If you didn’t, where to even begin?
We’ll start with the Magic injury report: Evan Fournier (out). D.J. Augustin (out). Michael Carter-Williams (out). Jonathan Isaac (out). Al-Farouq Aminu (out). Victory (doubtful).
The shorthanded Magic lined up against a 33-7 Lakers team that was seeking its 10 straight win, albeit without a key piece of their own in Anthony Davis. His absence wasn’t felt in the very early going. That was thanks to JaVale McGee, who took the form of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, scoring eight of the Lakers’ first 10 points, capped by a layup that gave the Lakers a 10-9 advantage with 8:16 left in the first. That, however, would be the Lakers’ last lead for quite a while.
Nikola Vucevic answered with a three, which a few possessions later, helped force McGee into overcommitting on a closeout, allowing Vooch to drive the lane at a speed we’ve rarely seen of him for an easy layup and 16-12 Magic lead. For the Magic to defeat the Lakers on a night as much, one would assume that Vucevic would be at the center of it. After that sequence, though, not so much.
It was the unheralded who filled the void for the Magic, led in the first by Wes Iwundu, who started in place of Fournier and scored nine points in the opening quarter. B.J. Johnson, a two-way player who entered the game having logged a grand total of nine minutes and two points for the big league Magic this season, made an impact just 36 seconds after checking in for a stretch in the first quarter, the Magic used a lineup consisting of Iwundu (at the point), Johnson (G League a few days ago), Gary Clark (Magic debut on a 10-day contract), Terrence Ross (sixth man) and Mo Bamba (second-year center) against one of the league’s premier defenses (104.4 defensive rating, third best). Still, the Magic led by as many as nine in the quarter and took a 35-29 lead into the second.
That lead would soon triple. Clark started the second by taking and making his first shot as a member of the Magic, a three that pushed the lead to 38-29. Johnson followed with a three of his own to make it 41-29 and prompt Magic play-by-play announcer David Steele to jokingly shout, “Who are these guys?!” The threes sparked a 13-0 Magic run, capped by another steal and dunk by Johnson, to open a 48-29 Orlando lead.
The Lakers would close the second quarter on an 18-6 run, capped by a true momentum shifter in the final minute. After Terrence Ross attempted a ferocious one-handed throw down that was denied at the rim by McGee (LeBron later called it “one of the greatest dunk attempts I’ve ever seen in my life”), Troy Daniels hit a three plus the foul for a four-point play that pulled the Lakers within 65-58 heading into the break. Replays clearly showed Daniels had a foot on the line, and yet somehow it stood. Luckily, it didn’t come back to haunt the Magic in a game that was ultimately decided by one point.
The Magic shot 47.2 percent in the half, making 5 of 12 three-point attempts (41.7). Thanks to some aggressive cutting and off-the-ball movement, the Magic got to the line, where they made all 10 of their first half attempts (compared to 2 of 4 for L.A.). The Magic converted 16 second chance points in the half, matching the Lakers’ per game average, and uncharacteristically tallied 16 fastbreak points in the half, surpassing their season average of 12.0 per game. Orlando got 29 first-half bench points, led by Ross and Johnson with nine each and Clark with eight. Markelle Fultz was quietly on pace for a triple-double with 10 points, six rebounds and five assists at the half, going right at LeBron James in transition.
James had just four points in the half but dished out eight assists for the Lakers, who shot 50 percent from the field in the half.
Iwundu matched his career-high of 16 points when he drained a three with 9:19 left in the third. He soon surpassed it when he made two free throws to put the Magic up 79-66.
Aaron Gordon, coming off his game-winner in Sacramento, played the type of game Magic fans love to see from him, outside of one or two forces. He cut aggressively, consistently attacked the basket, and had a variety of highlight reel moments. Let’s just say this T-Mac style throwdown was his second best dunk of the night.
The Magic lead reached its largest of the game when it grew to 21 with 6:27 left in the third. Then the Lakers essentially said, “I’ll see your Gary Clark and B.J. Johnson and raise you Quinn Cook and Troy Daniels.”
With LeBron orchestrating, and Cook, Daniels and KCP providing the perimeter shooting, the Lakers closed the third on a 22-2 run to pull within 89-88 going into the fourth. The Magic missed their final 13 shots of the quarter, going without a field goal for the final 7:13, and Cook scored the final seven points of the third to close the gap.
The Lakers regained the lead when James hit a three with 10:03 remaining in the fourth. After L.A.’s lead grew to four, Ross drained a three and Vucevic converted off a feed from Fultz to put the Magic back on top 100-99. Back and forth it went as the team’s continued to trade the lead.
With the Magic nursing a one-point lead and just under 1:30 remaining, Gordon received the ball at the perimeter with the shot clock winding down. Rather than launching from deep (he hit a crucial go-ahead three just minutes earlier), AG took advantage of the open lane and delivered what might be his best in-game dunk so far and the foul.
Cook quickly took those points back by draining another three. Vucevic answered with a three of his own off to put the Magic up four and give Fultz the final assist he needed for his first triple-double as a member of the Magic (second of his career). Still, the Lakers wouldn’t go quietly, and Fultz used his elusiveness to create his own shot and beat LeBron off the dribble, scoring in the paint on back-to-back possessions.
James missed a step-back three that would have tied the score in the closing seconds, and Gordon sealed the win with a free throw, giving the Magic what was one of their more memorable victories in recent memory. The Magic snapped the Lakers’ nine-game winning streak, and became the first sub-.500 team to defeat them this season.
Fultz finished with 21 points, a career-high 11 rebounds and 10 assists, playing a career-high 33 minutes on a night when the Magic were without another point guard to back him up. Gordon had 21 points and six rebounds and helped limit James to 7-for-19 shooting. Iwundu, quiet in the fourth, finished with a career-best 19 points. Vucevic, after struggling with his shot all night, scored seven of his 19 points in the fourth to help seal the win. Ross had 15 off the bench. Clark reached double-figures in his Magic debut with 10, and Johnson scored all nine of his points in the first half. Mo Bamba grabbed 11 rebounds in just 16 minutes. Orlando, outshot by the Lakers from the field and from deep, held a huge advantage at the free throw line, going 23-for-29 to the Lakers 7-for-11. The Magic, who are now 2-1 in three hyperventilating-inducing games on their six-game road trip, have won 8 of their last 12 to improve to 20-21.
James finished with 19 points and 19 assists, which matches his career-high. Cook had a season-high 22 points. Daniels and Caldwell-Pope each added 17. Hardly fan favorites around Orlando, Dwight Howard had nine points and 16 rebounds and Kyle Kuzma, who entered averaging over 24 points in Davis’ three-game absence, was held to four points on 2 of 10 shooting.
So the Magic closed out the first half of the season with their most impressive win of all. They’ll be back on this same court in less than 24 hours, as they return to face the Clippers in the second night of a Hollywood back-to-back.