Basketball was far from the most pressing issue Evan Fournier was dealing with Friday night.
The 23-year-old forward for the Magic was far more concerned with the events transpiring nearly 4,500 miles away in his native country of France.
Just two hours before he took the court against Utah, Fournier learned of the terrorist attacks in Paris, the city less than five miles from his hometown of Saint-Maurice.
Fournier’s parents still live in France, a simple fact that could have severely altered Fournier’s performance against the Jazz.
Instead, he thrived.
Fournier, the NBA’s leader in minutes played this season, spent much of his evening ripping the net with his potent jump shot, carrying Orlando to a 102-93 victory
The NBA’s leader in minutes played this season (382) capitalized on his additional time spent on the floor, pouring in a game-high 21 points on 7-of-15 shooting from the field. Fournier knocked down a pair of 3-pointers to go along with five rebounds, two assists and a steal in 37 minutes of play.
The victory elevated the Magic to 5-5 on the year, marking the latest the team has been .500 since the lockout shortened season of 2011-12, Dwight Howard’s final season with the team and the last time it qualified for post season play.
Following the game, Fournier politely requested to speak only about basketball, and he is playing the best basketball of his career.
“We played a very sound game both offensively and defensively,” Fournier said. “We just have to have the same spirit, same intensity and we will be fine.”
Along with his 21 point performance, the fifth time he has registered at least 20 points in a game this season, Fournier limited his opponent — Jazz guard Alec Burks — to 11 points on 2-of-13 shooting from the field.
In his second full season with the Magic, Fournier has emerged as the most consistent performer. The 6-foot-7 forward leads the team in scoring (18.9 points per game), 3-point field goals (23) ranks second in free throws made (26) and attempted (33) has has the third most steals (12) and assists (26) on the team.
Hours after the game, he took to social media to finally express some of his thoughts.
Prior to the game, Orlando center Nikola Vucevic approached Fournier, his best friend on the team, about what happened in France. After Fournier assured him that his family was safe, he managed to concentrate on the game.
Facing Utah, a team that ranks second in the league in points allowed per game at 91.3, is a tough task, but Orlando teammates were inspired by Fournier’s play following the news out of his hometown.
“It had to be difficult for him,” Vucevic said. “He didn’t show any signs of it on the court. He played his game, he stayed focused and he had a great game as a matter of fact. It shows a lot about him.”
Concentrating on an NBA game was a tough concept for anyone, especially those directly connected to France.
Jazz center Rudy Gobert, a friend and teammate of Fournier’s on the French national team, sat out the contest with an ankle injury, but could barely focus on what was happening on the court.
“I wasn’t playing tonight, so I was following everything that was going on on Twitter and everything, my friends, my family,” Gobert said. “It’s terrible. I’m glad that my family is safe. My friends are safe. When you know something is going on and your family is not very far from it, it’s not something that happens every day. It’s very disturbing. It’s a big tragedy, and I hope we’re going to find out everything about it.”
The Magic jumped out to an early lead, building a 16-2 advantage while limiting Utah to 1-of-9 shooting and forcing four turnovers during the first seven minutes of the game.
Nine of Orlando’s points during that run were scored by Fournier.
The hot start, while trying to move away from the tragedy that happened just miles from his front door, spoke louder about Fournier than he could ever verbalize.
The Magic are just fortunate to have such a driven player on the roster.
“You never know what kind of effect that is going to have on somebody,” Magic coach Scott Skiles said. “It’s a terrible thing.”