The first time the Orlando Magic rocked the Atlanta Hawks this season, it was on the back of an impossibly good shooting performance, an outlier 60% night from the field in the context of a miserable shooting season. This time around, the Magic whooped them the way you would have hoped all season: with energy, hustle, and a wing who can shoot the ball. Led by Terrence Ross’s bounce-back night, 24 points on 10-15 shooting, as well as a near-triple-double from Elfrid Payton (19-9-9), and a vicious series of dunks from Aaron Gordon (18 on 7-11 shooting), the Magic were able to handle the Hawks 105-86. Defense was a highlight, as the Magic forced the Hawks into 38% shooting and 17 turnovers.
The first half was all about the starters building up a big lead, the bench throwing it away, and the starters bringing it right back. Right from the tip, the game flowed much like the start of the game versus the Portland Trailblazers on Thursday. The Magic were active on both ends of the court, finding ways to get into the paint, getting several deflections, and then attacking off those turnovers. Gordon was the biggest beneficiary, getting on the board for 8 points in the first quarter thanks to his athletic finishes in the paint, a welcome sight after a year of perimeter-focused basketball for the Magic’s most promising player.
Terrence Ross continued to be a positive force, making the right play most of the time when he touched it, as well as reversing his shooting woes from his debut, tallying a game-high 11 points at halftime thanks to 3-5 shooting from distance. Vucevic dominated the boards, racking up a double-double before halftime, including 3 on the offensive glass.
While the Magic got out to a 21-10 lead after about 8 minutes, things quickly took a turn for the worse when the bench players started to filter in, and the trend accelerated in the second quarter when the reserve unit was badly outplayed on both ends. While the Magic were 7-8 from the free throw line in the first quarter, the aggressiveness that earned them those free throws vanished in the second, as did the free throw attempts. At the same time, the Hawks bean imposing their trademark smothering defense, picking up several deflections of their own and forcing the Magic into tough shots.
Atlanta built a 9-point lead in the battle of the benches, but the tide changed again when the starters returned for both teams. Orlando critically drew a fourth foul on Howard, forcing him out for the rest of the half, and they capitalized offensively. Just like the first quarter, the Magic starters blitzed the Hawks, erasing the lead and building a small one at halftime, 49-46.
The starters’ dominance picked up right where it left off from the first half, steadily building the lead back up to double-digits on the back of hustle plays and smart decisions. Gordon continued his quest to dunk on every member of the Hawks, while also pulling out a nifty behind-the-back step-back jumper on Paul Millsap. Payton was a big factor all night, nearly earning a triple double (a victim of his own success, as he wouldn’t need to enter the game in the fourth). Evan Fournier, struggling with his shot most of the night, finally got his first 3-pointer to go down. The Magic’s hustle was rewarded with a 15-point lead heading into the fourth, 80-65.
The big question heading into the fourth was whether the bench would crumble again, but to their credit they responded in a big way and actually built on the advantage created by the starters. Ross led the way with his unstoppable shooting, burning the Hawks on three straight pull-up jumpers curling toward the paint. That was enough to push the lead over 20, a margin the Magic were able to maintain the rest of the way.