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The Spurs pull off a magic trick worthy of Houdini

The Spurs pull off a fourth quarter comeback, capped by a Kawhi Leonard game winner at .9 seconds left of regulation.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Sitting restlessly at an elementary school assembly with fellow classmates, we were treated to a show by a clumsy magician. Obviously, he wasn't a very good one; a cheaply sewn cape descended from his corpulent frame, and the backdrop of his gymnasium stage was constructed by cheap apparatuses and various props.

Rather than a heralded prestidigitator performing sleight of hand at a respected establishment, the illusionist was forced on us, sweat drenching his brow as he failed to impress with his repertoire of illusions.

Sawing his assistant in half, you could spot her buckled knees bowing out the thin piece of plywood that constructed her casket. A stream of ribbons pulled from a sleeve were bunched up in a wad of color ballooning from his elbow. A rabbit vanished in a top hat made a ruckus, clawing and whimpering from a hidden compartment inside.

Unimpressed, we fidgeted in our seats, eventually discussing more interesting things than the failed legerdemain of a desperate performer.

Despite the Orlando's ambitions to fascinate the home crowd, the San Antonio Spurs upstaged the Magic's offensive conjuring, battling back from a 14-point fourth quarter deficit to win 98-96, for a sixth straight victory. The win marks the Spurs 10th consecutive win over the Magic, and their fourth winning streak of at least six games heading into the All-Star weekend; they boast a 2-0 record in the scheduled eight-game rodeo road trip. This is the seventh time this season the Spurs have had a win streak of five or more games, and they're averaging 111.6 points in the respective span.

Mirroring the February 1st Orlando game in San Antonio, the middle periods were an abomination - during that contest, the culprit was the Spurs' inability to keep the Magic off the offensive boards. This time, Spurs looked like hypnotized volunteers, unable to get anything going on either end of the court. Orlando Magic started the second half with a 2-3 zone, before relying on man-to-man defense, and seemed to fasten a lid on the basket against their opponent during the end of the second (embarking on an 11-0 run) and the entire third quarter (continuing with a 28-17 run).

But it was impressive how the Spurs performed their final trick in the fourth.

Coach Popovich used the same lineup of reserves at the start of the final period, a strategy that worked in February 1st, but wasn't as effective this time. Soon, a group of mostly starters took the floor, taking advantage of Orlando and forcing four missed shots and two turnovers. Green, Leonard, Aldridge, and Mills scored 21 of the final 31 of the quarter.

For the finale, with the game tied, Leonard leaned into a crossover, draining a 19-foot jumper from the top of the key over Aaron Gordon with .9 seconds, swinging the curtain down on San Antonio's prestige, causing many Orlando fans to close their playbill in frustration as their team fell to 4-16 in their last 20 games.


Kawhi Leonard

What caused the mid-game collapse? More than likely fatigue from a back-to-back for one of the oldest starting fives in the game. However, The Claw looked fresh and hungry for his first-ever All-Star appearance, scoring 29 points and securing seven rebounds. The win marked Leonard's 29th game this season with over 20 points, and his fifth straight. He was efficient from all areas of the floor, in particular backing towards the basket and attracting the double team on the block while opening spacing opportunities for teammates. The front-court duo of Aldridge and Leonard were responsible for 50 points - over half the total offense - and have scored 20 points in four of their last five games.

Media Notes

  • As expected, Timmy was banished to the bench by Popovich in the fourth quarter, likely preparing for a week-long vacation to his native Virgin Islands. After an eight-game absence, the Big Fundamental played 18:19 over three quarters, netting five points, seven rebounds, and five assists.

  • Center Nikola Vucevic seems to be an oversized, nightmarish match-up for the Spurs. The defensive effort was more impressive during the first half. David West and Diaw/Timmy and Kawhi double-teamed Vucevic anytime he attempted to penetrate the paint, limiting him to 4-10 shooting for eight point. However, he finished with 20 points and 13 rebounds, marking his fifth consecutive game against San Antonio with at least 10 rebounds. Orlando's center has scored at least 19 points against the Spurs front-court in four of their last five meetings.

  • The Spurs win percentage 84.9 (45-8) is the best in franchise history heading into the All-Star break, and the third best in NBA history. Only the 1995-1996 Bulls 89.3 (42-5) and this year's Golden State Warriors 92.3 (48-4) had a better record at this point.

  • Former assistant coach Monty Williams' wife Ingrid tragically passed away from a car accident before the game. She was 44. Coach Popovich nearly missed coaching the game, and was seen weeping in the locker room after the win as he addressed the media.

By The Numbers

1: The number of times Spurs analyst and former player Sean Elliot referred to Elfrid Payton as "Tarantula Head", which needs to be his official nickname ASAP.

22.4: The average age of the Orlando Magic's starters. In comparison, the Spurs starting line-up averages 30.8.

40: The amount of followers the Orlando Magic Blimp has on twitter. The Southwest Air float moved lazily above Orlando fans, scattering freebie tickets into the crowd; the blimp is apparently run by "SouthwestHeart" and "PureMagic", according to their social media page.

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