On Saturday and again on Sunday morning, Jacque Vaughn spoke with Arron Afflalo to learn how Afflalo's injured left ankle felt. Both times, Afflalo promised Vaughn he could play when their Orlando Magic hosted the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday night.
Afflalo was right.
Wearing two kinds of tape underneath his sock to protect his tender ankle, Afflalo propelled the Magic to a 109-102 win over the Hawks at Amway Center.
There have been other games this season in which Afflalo has scored more points, gathered more rebounds and dished out more assists. But when the time arrives to select reserves for the Eastern Conference All-Star team, Sunday's game could tip the scales in Afflalo's favor. He spent the bulk of the night guarding — and limiting — the Hawks' up-and-coming point guard, Jeff Teague, and Afflalo also provided his usual scoring punch.
"I knew I could walk," Afflalo said in the Magic's postgame locker room, his sneakers off and his ankle still wrapped. "My ankle was still sore, but I knew I could play. So, for me, if you can play, you play. There's no need for me to sit out."
Afflalo played 42 minutes, more than anyone on either roster.
Afflalo ran stiffly at times, and the Hawks sent a second defender toward him whenever he posted-up on offense. He still made seven of his 10 shot attempts as he scored a team-high 21 points. He also tallied seven assists.
But his defense helped set the tone.
Teague has tormented the Magic in recent years. From Dec. 6, 2010, through Nov. 9, 2013, the Hawks won 11 consecutive regular-season games over the Magic, and Teague continuously befuddled the Magic, especially on pick-and-rolls.
Vaughn and his assistant coaches wanted to match Teague, who is 6-feet-2, against a tall defender. On Sunday, they assigned Afflalo, who is 6-feet-4, and occasionally used 6-foot-4 Victor Oladipo in that role, too.
To stymie Atlanta's pick-and-rolls, the Magic often switched defenders when the Hawks set screens. So, when Teague dribbled past a screening teammate, he occasionally found himself confronted by the Magic's 7-foot center, Nik Vucevic.
In 33 minutes, Teague finished with 22 points, eight assists and three turnovers. Though effective, he didn't control the game as much as he did during some of the Hawks' recent matchups against the Magic.
"I think overall we wanted to give those guys different looks throughout the course of the night," Vaughn said.
Afflalo had help on the offensive end of the court.
Vucevic added 16 points and collected 14 rebounds, while Oladipo — often the most dynamic player on the court — scored 15 points, grabbed five boards and distributed eight assists.
Glen Davis, Tobias Harris, Maurice Harkless and Jameer Nelson also scored in double figures.
"It's impressive," Afflalo said.
"It means that we're trusting each other and the game is being played the right way. Thirty assists and seven guys in double figures? That means everybody's being aggressive, but they're being aggressive with the right intent. When we do that and we play for each other, we can compete with any team on a night-in, night-out basis."
The Magic now have won two games in a row, their first two-game winning streak since they swept a back-to-back in late November.
"It's good to be on a win streak," Nelson said, smiling. "We've been on the other end of it a lot. We'll enjoy this one for a couple of hours."
The Magic (10-20) would be well-served not to become overconfident after their win over the Hawks (17-14). Atlanta was playing its second game in two nights, and missed its injured center, Al Horford.
Still, the win felt good.
Especially to the guy with a sore left ankle.
firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his blog at OrlandoSentinel.com/magicblog and follow him on Twitter at @JoshuaBRobbins.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun