There wasn’t an overwhelming stat or characteristic in the Orlando Magic’s 112-96 win over the Milwaukee Bucks, the team just played the way the were designed to. It took 45 games and two crucial injuries on the wing, but just when the eulogy was written, the Magic came through.
The team played a balanced game – with seven players in double figures. They played with selflessness – zinging passes across the court instead of relying on the iso-heavy hero ball that’s seen Orlando crawl to the sixth-worst offense in the league.
On the night that Penny Hardaway was enshrined into the Orlando Magic Hall of Fame, the current team gave the sold-out crowd a show. For just a brief minute in what has been an otherwise disappointing season, it felt like Magic basketball was back at the Amway Center. The crowd of 19,307 was the second-largest in the history of the building, and they fed off every slam, steal, and block.
“I have to credit the fans,” said Magic coach Frank Vogel, “there was a buzz in this arena...and we felt that, captured that energy, and played off of it.”
After a 19-9 start by the Bucks, the Magic took control, and they didn’t take their foot off the gas. When the “typical Magic” moment struck, and the Bucks capitalized on pinstriped errors to cut their lead to seven, Orlando went on an 8-0 run to close the door.
And the lynchpin was Jeff Green.
The much maligned small forward turned in a very un-Jeff-Green-like performance. He registered a (contextually) gaudy box score with a near team-high 18 points, seven rebounds, and two assists. His plus/minus was +29.
“When Jeff plays like that, we’re a different team”, said Aaron Gordon, “he’s extremely talented, one of the most talented basketball players that I’ve ever been around.”
Green played with energy – diving for loose balls and making the extra pass. He was tasked, in part, with limiting the human fast break that is Giannis Antetokounmpo – and The Greek Freak had one of his worst shooting nights of the year. At the pinnacle of the Bucks’ frustration, he fouled out of the game.
Antetokounmpo finished with only 17 points, his seventh-worst scoring performance of the year. Additionally, his 35 percent from the field was the fifth-worst of the season so far. The dynamic defensive duo of Aaron Gordon and Jeff Green limited the lanky forward, but more importantly, the Magic limited his chances at fast break points.
Orlando only committed nine turnovers as a team, and out-gained the Bucks on the break 17 to 7. By making Antetokounmpo work for his points, and not committing the costly mistakes that have cost them of late, the Magic secured the win.
The Orlando Magic (18-27) will need this breath of fresh air for their next matchup, a home date wit the league-leading Golden State Warriors (37-6) on Sunday at noon. With Giannis out of the way, the Magic’s freshly minted defensive intensity will be tested by two players that have won the last three league MVPs, Steph Curry and Kevin Durant.