Kim Klement/USA TODAY
Jacque Vaughn said he Arron Afflalo put in a "courages effort" on both ends of the floor in not letting the Magic lose this game. Not after the roll he had gotten on and not after the Magic worked so hard to fight their way back into the game in the second half.
Even after making five 3-pointers in the third quarter, seven 3-pointers in the second half and scoring a career-high 36 points on 11-for-15 shooting -- posting an astounding 102 percent true shooting percentage -- Afflalo still turned to his teammates to secure a then-improbable 19-point turnaround and stunning victory at Amway Center.
Jameer Nelson and Nikola Vucevic ran a pick and roll on the final possession with Orlando clinging to a one-point lead. Nelson got into the paint but saw the trees of John Henson and Giannis Antetokounmpo sinking in to block the shot. He dished to Maurice Harkless in the corner who dished it back to Arron Afflalo on the win.
Afflalo drove into the forest in the paint and tucked the ball around to Nikola Vucevic who jammed it home.
The game was not secure, however, until Afflalo and Maurice Harkless tipped the ball away from O.J. Mayo at the top of the key and beat him to the ball as Afflalo sent it forward into the empty back court with time expiring. The Magic prevailed 94-91 in a suddenly energized Amway Center on Wednesday night.
Afflalo set a career-high in points with 36 and fell one 3-pointer short of tying the Magic record for 3-pointers made in a half, set by Jason Richardson at Milwaukee in Feb. 2012 and by Tracy McGrady in Cleveland in Jan. 2004. Afflalo was simply unconscious taking advantage of the Bucks' defense sagging into the paint as they focused on protecting the paint with their short-handed lineup.
"I just kind of had a calming feeling. I noticed in the first half that every time Jameer got into the paint, every time that Victor got into the paint and every time Nik touched the ball, they were kind of conditioned to just sink in and help. I had a lot of open looks. Although the ball didn't find me in the first half, I knew it would be there in the second half."
Afflalo did most of his damage on those drive and kicks. Four of Afflalo's five 3-pointers in the third quarter were assisted and his two makes in the fourth quarter were also assisted. And Afflalo did all of his damage from the left corner, making all four of his 3-pointers from that spot.
Afflalo vowed to be more efficient this season, and it does not get much more efficient than that.
The unfortunate part was how much the Magic needed that kind of a performance. Orlando gave up 37 points in the first quarter and dug itself a 19-point hole. The team was struggling to get stops and turnovers plagued the team again. The Bucks scored 10 fast-break points in the first 12 minutes, seemingly creating a redux of the last game.
Like Afflalo's final assist to Vucevic, a makeup for an indecisive turnover the possession before, this game seemed to be a makeup for the poor defensive efforts that plagued the team the past week and in the first quarter tonight. The Magic again showed a composure that is rare for a young team and slowly clawed their way back into the game.
Maurice Harkless was one of the few players who performed well on the offensive end in the first half. While he finished with only 10 points on 5-for-11 shooting, he pressured Caron Butler into difficult shots and actively looked for his shot. His spinning, one-handed dunk play in the first quarter sparked some early offense and his steal and dunk before the halftime buzzer provided momentum heading into the locker room.
"There are going to be frustrating moments in the course of the game," Jacque Vaughn said. "But being able to continue to lift your teammates up and have composure, I think that was the greatest part of tonight for me. The composure we had on the bench as a staff, the composure we had as a team, not overreacting.
"We gave up 36 points in the first quarter and only 37 points in the second half. We came into halftime, made a few adjustments and went out and played and supported each other. We realize that 48 minutes is a long game and supporting each goes a long way too."
The Magic found their stride late in the second quarter and it carried over into the third quarter as they found their shot and settled down defensively. This spelled bad news for the Bucks as the fast break opportunities dried up and the the undermanned Bucks wore down. Orlando found itself attacking the paint more and more when those opportunities were not present at all against Milwaukee's length in the interior and on the wing.
Orlando held Milwaukee without an offensive rebound in the second half and to 39.4 percent shooting. It ws a defensive performance reminiscent of the three-game win streak last week.
Considering the Magic were coming off so many disappointing defensive performances, it was an extremely welcome sign.
"You've just got to stay with it and keep bringing the intensity on defense," Harkless said. "We did a good job in the second half. They scored just as much points in the second half as they did in the first quarter. I played a big role in that win."
Vaughn said he challenged his team at halftime to continue to fight and believe in each other. Down 19 points with a seemingly hapless offense, even against an undermanned team, that seemed like a tall order. Orlando though has continued to show its characteristic to continue fighting and clawing its way back into games.
Afflalo said he was disappointed in the team's first half energy. But that disappointment was not discouragement. The team once again never got down and kept fighting forward. They would get close and see the Bucks rebuild their lead. Only for Orlando to tear it back down again.
It took a major team effort to get there. Afflalo's individual performance certainly did not hurt.