Big third quarter opens the game up
Third quarters have consistently been the Orlando Magic's achillies heel this season. The team has come out flat more often than not, struggling to run their offense, while stringing together stops on a consistent basis.
Friday night against the Milwaukee Bucks was a completely different story.
Out of the 15-minute intermission, the Magic looked crisp, running their offense at a high level, while getting after the Bucks on the defensive end. At one point in the quarter, the Magic strung together stops on 11-of-12 possessions, stifling the Bucks every chance that they had.
On the other end, the Magic ran fluidly, finding open shots on many of their possessions. They started the quarter a scalding hot 7-of-8, including 5-of-5 from three. When all the dust settled, they were 13-of-16 in the quarter, and 6-of-6 from beyond the arc.
Moreover, the 37 points the team scored were their most in a quarter all season, and marked just the third time they had scored over 37 points in a third quarter since Dwight Howard left. Needless to say, it was an impressive quarter.
Head coach Scott Skiles said he felt his team was "very sharp" in the second half after some what of a sluggish first half. The former point guard was also pleased with Eflrid Payton's play. "I thought Elfrid was excellent again, I thought he was kind of the key to everything with the defensive pressure," said the first-year Magic coach.
Tobias Harris called the team's offense "beautiful" in the third quarter. "We didn't have a good first half, and we knew that, so we wanted to come out and out biggest emphasis was just out energy; pick up our energy," he said. "We'd make one shot and celebrate like we just won a championship, but it was just that type of vibe out there. We all just kept feeding off of each other, we were able to make threes, get into the lane, kick it out and make the extra pass. That just helped us a ton out there."
Evan Fournier said that the third quarter performance shows just how well the Magic can play when their offense is clicking. Fournier was also pleased with the teams defense in the quarter, saying that they put an emphasis on that end in at the half.
Seeing the third quarter prformance is encouraging, especially considering how the team has played out of the halftime break for much of the season. They're building some consistency with back-to-back wins, and they'll need to build it more out of halftime on Sunday in another highly important game against the Boston Celtics.
Searching for more balance
After making the lineup change prior to Wednesday's game against the New York Knicks, the Magic went the same way on Friday night, as they still look for consistency between their units. The move, which sent Victor Oladipo to the bench and Channing Frye to the starting lineup, has worked out thus far.
Frye's floor spacing has opened the floor up for Elfrid Payton to attack, which has in turn led to Payton putting together two of his better games of the season. The move also frees up Tobias Harris to play his more natural small forward spot, while also opening things up for him around the perimeter.
While numbers wise there might not appear to be too much balance -- the starters scored two-thirds of the Magic's 114 points on the night -- the difference between the two units has been staggering.
Oladipo's move has given the bench a lift energy wise, which has allowed them to continue some of their strong play that kept them in games while the starters struggled earlier this season. The move has also, at least appeared, to have made Oladipo more aggressive, with the third-year man relentlessly attacking the defense trying to get to the rim.
Coach Skiles was once again pleased with the balance the move brought. "It happened again tonight," he said. "Victory, I thought again, was very positive, obviously he was driving the ball."
Harris said the move has brought a great balance to the team. "I think it's a great balance and I just think that a guy that doesn't get a lot of credit for [it] is Channing. Channing brings great floor spacing for us and he plays well. I know that I can kick it out to him and we know that we can get open threes to him.
"He just kind of keeps clicking for us and Victor who comes off the bench with energy and a spark. It's an even balance, guys accept their role and that's huge for us. That's what being a good team is about."
Fournier was also complimentary of what Frye brings to the team balance wise. "Bigs aren't used to guarding shooters," he said. "Obviously Channing is a good shooter. He spaces the floor for us, he's always positive and always in a good mood."
The move was criticized by some due to the struggles Frye and starter Nikola Vucevic had together last season. In the scheme that Skiles has employed, the team has been able to get after it on that end, even with those two in the front court.
Orlando's current lineup might not be the same for the rest of the season, but they're aiding the Magic's search for balance, which in turn, is leading to the Magic finding some consistency. Sunday night's game against the Boston Celtics will be another huge one for the Magic, and another chance to show their improved balance, and consistency.