The formula is starting to feel familiar, and it's not a happy pattern for Magic fans. Orlando goes down big early on, looks generally bad on defense, mounts a big comeback (mostly thanks to a sudden offensive burst), but ultimately comes up short in the fourth quarter, despite a standout effort from one of their backcourt members. Tonight followed that formula all too closely, and the Magic fell to the Detroit Pistons 118-102 despite Elfrid Payton's big game. Payton, coming off the bench again, put up a 20-10-10 triple double. He was aggressive all night getting to and finishing around the hoop, and it paid off big when the Magic were trying to rally. It wasn't enough to make up for the glaring defensive issues, however, as Detroit burned them to the tune of 54% shooting, including 46% from 3. Andre Drummond put up a monster 30-14 night, while Tobias Harris added 18 points in his first game against his former team. Nikola Vucevic missed his 10th game in a row dealing with his groin injury.
The last meeting between these teams, Detroit blew out Orlando behind a barrage of open 3-pointers, and the first quarter of Wednesday's game looked very much the same. Detroit hit 4-5 long range shots early on, with 3 of those makes coming from the Morris-Harris forward combo. The pair combined to score 16 points for Detroit in the first. The Pistons consistently earned quality looks from outside consistently, often without Magic defenders within several feet of the shooters. When they weren't allowing those open shots, they were sending the Pistons to the line, letting them take 8-10 from the charity stripe. Orlando's offense was equally bad for most of the quarter, with the passing and ball handling being the worst of their problems. They committed 4 turnovers in the quarter, and most of them were of the "lazy" variety. It wasn't until Smith and Payton came into the game that the offense started to resemble respectability, as the duo combined for a pair of those ever-reliable Smith pick-and-pop jumpers. The Pistons led 32-21.
Across the first and second quarters, the Magic put together a 15-4 run to get the score within 8. The Pistons would respond, however, locking down on defense and creating more of those 3-pointers and free throws. They led 46-29, looking well on their way to a blowout first half, until the Magic's offense suddenly came alive. Payton, making his case to return to the starting lineup, scored 10 points and dished 4 assists in the second quarter, leading a furious Magic comeback that pulled the lead all the way within 4 after being down by 17. Oladipo added 10 points of his own in the frame, as the duo found ways to get into the paint repeatedly and finish in traffic. The team also found its range from outside, hitting 3-6 long-distance shots during that run after going 1-6 in the first. Reggie Jackson hit two threes to put the Pistons back in control, but the lead was only single digits entering halftime, 66-57.
Orlando and Detroit traded blows evenly to start the second half. Although Dwayne Dedmon started the game, Skiles elected to pit Ilyasova against Drummond for much of the third, perhaps conceding that the defense just wouldn't be there and going all-in on the offense (or at least, as "all-in" as this Magic team can get). Orlando got the lead within 3, but two Pistons baskets pushed that right back to 7. One important reason the Magic were able to get back into the game was their lack of turnovers, giving up zero giveaways in the second and third quarters after that sloppy first quarter. It looked like Detroit was going to take control of the game again after they made a few more 3-pointers to get a 13-point advantage, but the Magic came right back by attacking the basket again and again. Harris hit a shot at the buzzer for the Pistons to cap the third quarter and ultimately maintain the 9-point lead they entered with, taking a 96-87 advantage into the fourth.
The fourth quarter broke the stalemate of the third, to the Magic's detriment, as Detroit unleashed an 8-0 run in the first minute. Payton, as he did all night, did his best to lead the comeback effort. He scored or assisted the Magic's next 10 points, and by the end of the quarter finished off his triple-double effort. His offensive efforts were not enough, though. Drummond, who had steadily put up 20 points throughout the night, got 10 more in the final quarter to put away the Magic. He connected on multiple alley-oops, and Orlando appeared to have no answer to his size inside. Detroit also appeared to solve Orlando's offense, and the Magic were unable to score if Payton wasn't creating the shots.
The Magic return to the court Friday in Miami.