Vucevic's monster game lifts Magic past Clippers

Tim Povtak, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Wednesday wasn't the first big game for still-unheralded Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic, but it clearly was his most rewarding.
It could be a sign of things to come.
Vucevic, the third-year player who came from the Philadelphia 76ers before last season, had 30 points and 21 rebounds Wednesday to lead the Magic to a 98-90 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers. He asked for the ball, and he delivered.
After letting a 19-point lead slip away in the third quarter, the Magic (3-2) rallied late to win their third consecutive game with Vucevic in the midst of it all. The Clippers (3-2) saw their three-game winning streak end.
It was the second time in his career Vucevic had at least 30 points and 20 rebounds, and the fifth time had at least 20 and 20, but only the second time in a winning effort.
"This felt good," he said. "I'm just trying to deliver for my team. The numbers don't mean much when you don't win. When you help your team win, they mean a lot more.
"I'm playing with a lot (more) confidence than I was before, and that's going to help us win games. I have a lot more room to grow. I'm only 23, but to get where I want, we have to win games. I think we can."
Vucevic hit six consecutive free throws in the final 23 seconds to seal the victory. Back-to-back baskets by guard Arron Afflalo and Vucevic gave the Magic a 92-89 lead they never lost.
Vucevic had 10 points in the fourth quarter, coming up big when his team needed him the most.
"This was a monster game for him," Afflalo said. "He played great tonight. There is no other way to put it. He's developing a confidence that could really help us win games. And he can do a lot of things well."
Forward Blake Griffin led the Clippers with 23 points and 13 rebounds. Point guard Chris Paul, who fouled out in the closing seconds, had 18 points and 10 assists. Paul missed a layup with 17 seconds remaining -- in the midst of the Vucevic free throw run -- and Los Angeles trailing by three.
The Clippers came with the star power, but they did not match the Magic's aggressiveness, which Orlando used Sunday to beat the star-studded Brooklyn Nets.
"I just thought they played so much harder than us, especially in the first half," Clippers coach Doc Rivers said of the Magic. "I thought we were very casual in our approach tonight, and it cost us. They dictated the pace."
Although the rebounding was even at 51 each, the Magic shot 48.8 percent compared to the Clippers' 37.9 percent.
The Magic got 12 points from reserve guard E'Twaun Moore and 11 points each from Afflalo, guard Jameer Nelson and rookie guard Victor Oladipo.
The Clippers came into the game as the highest scoring team in the league (119 points per game), but they struggled to find any consistency on offense until the second half.
Los Angeles led 74-72 going into the final period. Moore hit back-to-back 3-pointers, though, to give the Magic an 86-82 lead midway through the fourth. The lead bounced back and forth throughout the final period.
The Clippers turned a 19-point deficit early in the third period into a six-point lead late in the same quarter. The turnaround was led by guard J.J. Redick, who had 12 points in the reversal. The Clippers outscored the Magic 32-15 in the third quarter, but it was their only highlight.
Redick, who started last season in Orlando before a trade to the Milwaukee Bucks, hit two 3-pointers during the rally. He finished with 17 points.
Everything went right for the Magic early as they built a 57-42 halftime lead. Vucevic had 14 points and nine rebounds at the break. The Magic hit 55 percent from the field, while the Clippers managed just 35.6 percent. Los Angeles missed all eight of its first-half 3-point attempts.
Oladipo sparked the Magic when he entered the game late in the first quarter by immediately hitting a 3-pointer, then stealing the ball quickly from Paul, a five-time All-Star.
NOTES: Clippers F Matt Barnes, who averaged 21 minutes over the first four games, sat out Wednesday with a sore calf. He also may miss Thursday's game against the Heat in Miami, according to coach Doc Rivers. ... Rivers said before the game that while he was coach of the Boston Celtics, he tried several times to trade for G J.J. Redick. "He fits well on a good team. He's very tough and very competitive, which usually translates well," Rivers said. ... The Clippers entered the game averaging a league-high 119 points, almost five points more than the No. 2 Dallas Mavericks. ... Magic F Glen Davis, who remains on the injured list after surgery to repair a foot fracture, practiced with coaches on the court before the game. F Tobias Harris (sprained ankle) also missed his fifth consecutive game. ... The Magic play host to the Celtics on Friday.

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