Minneapolis, Minnesota is not a warm place to be in late November. In fact, with temperatures around game time scheduled to be in the mid-20's, it can be downright blisteringly cold.
<Insert joke here> about the Magic entering tonight's game even colder.
Not a whole lot changed Wednesday night for the Magic, who dropped the first game in their four-game in six-nights road trip to the Minnesota Timberwolves 124-118
The Magic created three huge problems for themselves in this one; they couldn’t defend the paint, they suffered from a considerable free-throw discrepancy, and again they struggled to protect the basketball. Minnesota scored 58 points in the paint, while the Magic as a team turned the ball over 15 times (which led to 19 points). Minnesota also marched to the charity stripe 45 times (36-45), compared to just 22 trips for the Magic (14-22).
The Magic began the game very sharp offensively, seemingly making a point to make the extra pass and move the basketball. Elfrid Payton especially was looking to set-up others, he recorded 7 assists in the first period alone (and 0 turnovers). But Orlando’s interior defense in the paint left a lot to be desired. The Magic were able to hold Wiggins, Butler, and Towns in check in the first quarter, but Taj Gibson exploded to lead all scorers with 10 points in the quarter. A few of his buckets came uncontested at the rim. Marreese Speights checked into the game with just under two minutes remaining in the first quarter, and per usual, promptly drilled two three-pointers to give the Magic the lead 35-31 at the end of the first quarter.
Orlando’s second unit was able to keep the ship steady the first half of the second quarter. Bismack Biyombo was notably strong in the first half, hammering down two thunderous dunks, pulling down three rebounds, and blocking a shot (and altering a few others). However, when the Magic starters re-entered the game midway through the second quarter, they came back a little flat. Turnovers, which plagued the Magic Monday night against the Pacers, were a major problem once again. Orlando turned the ball over 7 times in the second quarter, which created easy scoring opportunities for All-Star Jimmy Butler (10 in the quarter). Taj Gibson led the Wolves with 15 points at the break, and Minnesota took a 65-61 lead into the half.
And then things began to go a little haywire. Jeff Teague stole the ball and went coast to coast early in the third, and Jimmy Butler followed that with a contested three-point make while getting fouled. The Wolves came out of the half blitzing the Magic in the half-court; Gibson and Karl-Anthony Towns were seemingly rim-running at will each possession, finishing numerous field goals in the paint. Minnesota connected on six of their first eight attempts from the field out of the break. Another Jimmy Butler three-pointer midway through the third quarter gave the Wolves an 84-71 lead that they would just continue to blow open. Orlando was completely dominated in the quarter, getting outscored 41-18. Minnesota took a 26 point lead into the fourth, and like the weather outside, it seemed like the contest was on ice. #ThirdQuarterCollapse once again.
But to their credit, the Magic showed a lot of life to get back into the game and make the contest more than respectable. Orlando held Minnesota without a field goal for over six minutes into the fourth quarter, clawing their way back into the game via a 21-4 run of their own. Yet Elfrid Payton, who ended up with 13 assists in the game, missed a few critical late-game free-throws. A Terrence Ross layup cut Minnesota's lead to eight with less than a minute to play, an Evan Fournier three-pointer shrunk the lead to six with 0:29 to play, and a Ross three-point heave brought the lead to within five with 20 seconds left in the game. An Evan Fournier dunk cut the lead to four with seven seconds to go, but that was as close as the Magic would get.
The Wolves had four players who scored 20 or more points in the contest, led by Jimmy Butler’s season-high 26 points. Taj Gibson had a season-high 24 points, Jeff Teague had 22 points and 11 assists, and Andrew Wiggins chipped in 20. Karl-Anthony Towns added 18 points and 13 rebounds.
The Magic were led by Aaron Gordon’s 26 points and 9 rebounds. Terrence Ross, in easily his best game of the season, finished with 22 points (3-8 3PT).
Hopefully, Orlando will be able to parlay their successful fourth-quarter tonight (outscored Minnesota 38-18) into a victory in Boston on Friday.
Happy Thanksgiving to all!