It wasn’t always pretty for the Magic. Despite their gaudy score, the offense often looked aimless without Elfrid Payton on the court, and even Payton himself struggled with turnovers (6 on the night). They missed 14 of their 43 free throws, including three straight technical free throws. They threatened to throw away a gigantic lead in garbage time.
Still, while the process may have been ugly, the result was another strong win for the Magic, who took the 128-112 victory on the road versus the Phoenix Suns. Aaron Gordon continued his ridiculous 3-point shooting, hitting both of his attempts on the way to 22 points. His only blemish was 6-11 shooting from the free throw line, but he made up for it with good decision-making throughout the night. Nikola Vucevic added 19, making 3-6 from distance (missing the first three attempts, and making the last three). Orlando shot 52.4%, and 46.4% from deep.
The tone for the game was set right away with a 36-32 first quarter in favor of the Magic. Terrence Ross ruined an opportunity for beautiful synergy among the starters by being the only one to score 8 points in the quarter, while everyone else netted 6 points. In all seriousness, it was a breakout night for Ross, who hit 4-5 from distance in a season when he hasn’t been able to buy a bucket. TJ Warren was a problem for the Magic from the get-go, scoring 10 points with aggressive drives that took advantage of Orlando’s poor paint defense. He would finish with 20 on the night.
The Suns fought back in the second quarter behind the relentless play of Josh Jackson. Putting together what was surely the best night of his young NBA career, Jackson attacked the Magic in transition on the way to a 16-5-1-2-1 line at halftime. After the game, Coach Frank Vogel and several other players spoke at length about the Magic’s poor transition defense, and Jackson spearheaded those problems. Thanks to timely 3-point shooting from Gordon and Vucevic, the Magic were able to regain their lead at halftime, 64-63.
Suns coach Jay Triano said he told his team at halftime “First team that plays defense is going to win this game,” and that proved to be true, as the Magic put together stops for the first time all night to open a giant lead between the third and fourth quarters, thanks to the aforementioned transition defense. Without those run-and-gun opportunities, the Suns’ offensive attack stalled. At the same time, the Magic’s officiating fortunes reversed between the first and second halves, and the Suns found themselves on the wrong end of some tough calls. They earned three technical fouls in quick succession, though the Magic were unable to capitalize on any of them.
Regardless, while the Suns may have been unlucky with the calls late in the game, it was ultimately their lack of composure that doomed them. Orlando played calm, collected basketball until they opened a 25-point lead in the fourth, at which point they provided their starters some much-needed rest in advance of the brutal bookend to their back-to-back, in Denver.