At the start of the game, this looked to be another listless, lifeless affair at the Amway Center. Neither team was executing, both teams were playing hurt, and neither seemed like they wanted to win. The Magic would have been out of it before halftime, and again in the third quarter, but Elfrid Payton was Orlando’s saving grace. Thanks to his monster performance, putting up a triple double by the end of the third quarter, and thanks to an inspired performance down the stretch, the Magic were able to reverse their fourth-quarter fortunes and take down the Bulls 98-91. Payton’s 22-14-14 night were career highs for assists and rebounds as part of his second triple-double in a row, to go along with 2 steals and 2 blocks (game-highs in all categories). Jimmy Butler led Chicago with 21 points on 21 shots, playing without Dwyane Wade who sat with an illness.
The hero of the night for Orlando was Payton, who fought all night to keep the Magic in the game. His hustle and execution were crucial in keeping the Magic in the game, even when things were looking bad in the second and third quarters. When the Bulls got off to a hot start in the third, building their lead up to 13, it looked like Orlando might be out of it early, but they fought back, using Payton’s aggression on offense, efficient shooting (6/7 in the first three quarters, plus 6/7 from the line), and hustle on the boards to keeping pushing into that lead. Close to the end of the quarter, they finally tied the game on a big 3-pointer from Fournier.
While the injury to Vucevic hasn’t helped matters, the Magic have serious questions to address with their bench moving forward. With the exception of the Wizards game, the Magic’s full-reserve unit has been badly outplayed every game since the All-Star break, and Wednesday night was no exception. While the starters weren’t exceptional in the first quarter, playing the Bulls to a listless 22-19 score, Chicago’s advantage grew thanks to the Magic’s inability to play on either end. The Magic’s five bench players, now featuring Stephen Zimmerman, combined to make just 5 shots in the second quarter, against 11 makes by Chicago’s bench. To their credit, however, they played better in the fourth, part of a critical effort to maintain and then build on the opportunity provided by the third-quarter comeback.
In the fourth, the Magic fought back and forth with the Bulls, finally using their defense and energy to hold them off at the end. Orlando briefly opened up a 7-point lead off a CJ Watson free throw, but Chicago came back with an unlikely Rajon Rondo 3-pointer and a basket by Jerrian Grant to get within 2. Though the margin went up and down, the Magic never let the Bulls get closer than that the rest of the way.
The winning stretch came with under 2 minutes to play, when the Magic used 5 offensive rebounds and a won jump ball across two possessions to keep giving themselves a chance to make the dagger bucket while also bleeding clock. Finally, Payton picked up the 5th of those offensive rebounds (and his 6th of the night), putting back a layup and giving the Magic a 4-point lead. From there it was all about defense, and the Magic were able to contain the Bulls on all their shots, smothering their attempts around the rim twice in a row (including Payton’s second block), forcing the Bulls into the foul game.