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Spurs 95, Magic 89: Orlando’s improved defense isn’t enough to get the win

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The return of three of the Magic’s starters added much needed depth and defense, but late mistakes and poor shooting cost the Magic at the end.

NBA: Preseason-San Antonio Spurs at Orlando Magic Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Buoyed by the return of Elfrid Payton, Aaron Gordon, and Serge Ibaka, the Orlando Magic's defense showed signs of life after a disappointing performance against the Cavaliers, but turnovers and poor shooting down the stretch sank Orlando's chances as they fell 95-89 to the San Antonio Spurs. Evan Fournier led all scorers with 20 points on an efficient 7/14 shooting night, while Jeff Green added 17 in 24 minutes off the bench. While both teams shot under 40% from the field, the difference came at the 3-point line, where the Spurs were 11-24 compared to the Magic's 7-21.

The first quarter was an even more extreme version of the previous game's opener, with nearly all the offensive production coming from Fournier (11 of 15 Orlando points). In fact, not a single Magic player other than Fournier hit a shot from the field in the first 12 minutes of the game, and it was Nikola Vucevic who contributed the other four points from the free throw line. The three returning Magic players all looked rusty in their first games of the preseason, and Payton in particular had a rough time of it, turning the ball over 5 times versus 1 made field goal and 1 assist. San Antonio led 21-15 after the first.

It wasn’t until 11:15 of the second quarter that another Orlando player finally hit a shot, when Green hit a short jumper to start the Magic’s rally. A bench group anchored by Bismack Biyombo’s defense and Green’s scoring propelled the Magic on a 16-2 run over the next five minutes. With most of his key players available, Vogel took the opportunity to experiment with some matchup combinations, including some Ibaka-Biyombo minutes late in the half. The Spurs gained back some ground, but Orlando took a 42-39 lead into the locker room.

The second half was not as crisp defensively for Orlando, a problem exacerbated by their ongoing turnover issues. They continued to let the Spurs find looks around the arc and get second chances with offensive rebounds. One highlight of the third: an out-of-nowhere block by Payton on a Patty Mills midrange jumper. Ibaka managed to contribute some points after going scoreless in the first half, getting all 7 of his points in the third (notably, Ibaka did not attempt any 3-point shots this game). The two teams went back and forth, with the Spurs ultimately nursing a 1-point lead, 68-67.

Biyombo and Green continued to play a lot of minutes through the fourth, only exiting the game with a few minutes remaining. Biyombo was a big factor on the defensive end, netting 3 blocks on the night to go with his 11 rebounds in just 24 minutes. As for Green, this was his second night in a row contributing efficient scoring, prompting Vogel to state after the game that he’s been “a pleasant surprise.” The Magic got the lead within 4 in the last minute, but a Mario Hezonja turnover ended their chance at a last-second comeback, and the Spurs sealed the deal at the free throw line.