One strong performance won't suddenly turn the Orlando Magic into an NBA title contender. But on Friday night, the Magic showed what they can do when they bring intensity to the first quarter of a game.
They can cause problems for most NBA teams — even teams on the rise.
Orlando turned in one of its best first quarters in weeks, played energetic defense and received contributions off the bench to swamp the Golden State Warriors 99-85 at Amway Center. With the win, the Magic swept the season series against the surprising Warriors.
"Definitely an improvement," said J.J. Redick, who scored a team-high 16 points.
"Maybe we just match up really well with those guys. We've ended two of their winning streaks. We talked about getting off to a good start, because a team like that that's been on the road awhile, if you can play with energy initially, maybe they don't want to match it."
That focus came through in the first quarter, the Magic's Achilles' heel all season. In the period, the Magic held the Warriors to 21 percent shooting and recorded seven of their season-high 11 blocked shots.
"I thought we were once again a step slow," Warriors coach Mark Jackson said.
The Magic finished the quarter ahead 19-14 — their largest lead at the end of a first quarter since their season-opener on Nov. 2 when they led the Denver Nuggets by 11 points.
"We're still trying to figure it out because we really haven't started well all season," rookie small forward Maurice Harkless said. "We've got to do a better job of that, and I think today we did."
Harkless finished with seven points, seven rebounds and four blocks.
Rookie power forward Andrew Nicholson scored 15 points, tied a career high with nine rebounds and set a career high with four blocks.
Center Nik Vucevic finished with 12 points and a career-high 17 rebounds.
"We came into this game with a sense of urgency knowing that they came into our place less than two weeks ago and got a win," Golden State point guard Stephen Curry said. "I don't know exactly how to stop them. They run their plays hard. They are a hard-working group for 48 minutes."
The Warriors (15-8) looked sluggish, and it was their most ragged performance since their Dec. 3 loss to the Magic in Oakland.
The Warriors entered Friday on a five-game winning streak, with all of the wins on the road.
The announced crowd of 17,040 didn't provide the Magic with much of a homecourt advantage. Amway Center's stands might have been just 40 percent full at tipoff.
But Orlando (9-13) took control early, piled on in the second quarter and withstood Golden State's runs throughout the second half.
Golden State's Jarrett Jack swished a 3-pointer from the right corner to cut Orlando's lead to 63-54 with 4:47 to go in the third quarter.
But the Magic hit treys on three of their next five offensive possessions. E'Twaun Moore started the run with a 3 after Redick drove into the lane and dished the ball into the left corner. Arron Afflalo sank a 3 from the right wing off a pass from Moore. And Redick used a pump-fake to gain some space for an unassisted 3.
Their baskets put the Magic ahead 72-54 late in the quarter, and Nicholson extended the lead to 20 points on a pair of free throws with 2:15 left in the period.
Orlando had all the cushion it needed for the fourth quarter.
The start had made all the difference.
"Thankfully, we don't have to play them again," Curry said.