The Magic would not go away.
Shots were not falling. Orlando was fumbling the ball around and turning the ball over, igniting Utah fast breaks in the first half. A superstar player went off for his season-best game. The defense frustrated things with pressure. The ball was bouncing the other team's way.
By all rights, this was not the Magic's night to win. On the road against a tough Jazz team, it felt like the Jazz were one scoring burst away from blowing the game open and running away to an easy home win.
Orlando is not one to fold though. Maybe the team would have done so earlier in the year with the shots not falling and the ball bouncing off legs and away from teammates. Maybe the team would have done so with two low-post players in Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap exploiting the Magic for much of the night.
If there is one area this team has grown, it is the willingness to fight no matter what.
Sometimes though, you need more than that. Sometimes the stats do matter. And they did in Utah's 87-81 win over Orlando on Wednesday night at EnergySolutions Arena.
For the Magic, committing 20 turnovers (leading to only 15 Jazz points) will not win you many games. Shooting 44.2 percent from the floor, but only 1 for 15 from beyond the arc. That will not win you many games. And, finally, giving up 31 points and 15 rebounds to Al Jefferson, even against some good defense from young Nikola Vucevic, will not win you many games.
Orlando fell behind by as much as 14 points in the first half, but would not go away. The Magic continued to fight back and fight back.
They got the lead down to three in the third quarter before Utah increased the pressure and blitzed the ball handlers on pick and rolls and implemented a full-court press that knocked Orlando even further off its game and out of offensive kilter. Yet, Orlando fought back.
Jacque Vaughn turned to his closing lineup of Jameer Nelson, J.J. Redick, Arron Afflalo, Glen Davis and Nikola Vucevic very early in the fourth quarter, looking to erase a 10-point deficit and get back into the game by any means necessary. With the Magic struggling so much on offense, Vaughn needed the boost from Nelson, Afflalo and Davis offensively to get the team back in it.
Ultimately the game is about scoring points.
For the third straight time, Orlando did that in the fourth quarter outscoring Utah 24-19. The Magic even took the lead with a nice J.J. Redick feed to Glen Davis for a dunk. The game, despite the turnovers and despite the poor shooting to win the game.
It was on Nelson (17 points, five assists, 7/16 FGs), Afflalo (16 points, 7/12 FGs) and Davis (18 points, 7/16 FGs, 12 rebounds) to carry them to the finish line. Perhaps leaning on them to get Orlando back into the game cost the team at the end.
While Utah went time and time again to its rock in Al Jefferson, who just toyed with Nikola Vucevic despite his solid defense, Orlando saw Davis miss an open 20-footer and Afflalo miss a jumper later with the chance to keep pace and tie the game. Jefferson finished the Magic off at the end as J.J. Redick's open 3-pointer to cut a 4-point lead to one late fell off the rim no good.
The Magic just did not have enough points to win the game.
Still, the fact that Orlando continued to fight despite those problems is a sign of growth from this team. The Magic generally played some great half-court defense, holding the Jazz to 41.6 percent shooting and matching a lot of the physicality they were seeing on their end of the floor. Orlando was not afraid to scrum a bit in this game.
Further, the team adjusted. After struggling to get back in transition throughout the first half, Orlando put the clamps on Utah's fast break game in the second half. The Jazz average 20 fast break points at home but had only 13 in this game. Orlando was not going to go away, even when it looked like the Jazz were preparing to run away and put this one out of reach.
If you want to find a positive, it is certainly there. The Magic will continue to fight and are no longer hanging their heads when shots do not fall. But they still need that to happen to win games, even when the defense is playing well and forcing misses. For Orlando, it is still putting it all together. The positive play and confidence continues to build however.
And the ability to fight and give yourself a chance when things are going wrong is certainly a good place to start.