Be patient with Mohamed Bamba, be patient.
We’ve all heard a lot of that regarding Orlando’s prized lottery pick from the ‘18 NBA Draft. And it’s probably true; the ‘18-’19 season will assuredly be a year of up-and-downs for the big man with legendary length.
But Wednesday night, in Orlando’s opening contest, there was nothing to wait on. Bamba scored 13 points (6-8 FG), pulled down 8 rebounds, and blocked 2 shots (25 minutes) in his NBA debut.
Aaron Gordon led the Magic with 26 points (9-18 FG, 4-5 3PT) and 16 rebounds in just over 38 minutes. Six Orlando players finished the contest in double-figures.
The Heat jumped out to a 13-5 lead on the Magic after converting their first five attempts from the field (all in the paint). The Magic had difficulty slowing down Goran Dragic, who finished the game with 26 points. Orlando was cold (and flat) out of the gate, going 6 for their first 20 from the floor.
Orlando trailed Miami by double digits early. However, a mini-run by the Magic (fueled by Gordon) cut Miami’s lead to six after the first quarter.
A turning point in the game came when Gordon grabbed a long offensive rebound, dribbled the ball out, and converted a corner three-point attempt.
Second chance points were kind of the theme for the Magic in the first half. Orlando cashed-in on 16 second chance points off numerous offensive rebounds that kept possessions alive.
“Every team needs those effort, energy points,” Coach Clifford said when asked about his team manufacturing points early in the game. “I believe (for years) that offensive rebounding was not a big indicator of good play in this league. Now, with the four-out and one-in offenses, offensive rebounding is becoming more and more important. And we have guys (Jonathan Isaac, Gordon, Bamba) that can do that. We need to be able to get offensive rebounds (while) not giving up fast-break points.”
Strong bench play was also huge for the Magic in the second quarter, a period in which they took the lead in the game for the first time. A lineup of Jerian Grant, Terrence Ross, Jonathon Simmons, Gordon, and Bamba provided Orlando with the hustle, effort, and energy they needed to get back into the game.
“The story of the game was the bench play,” Clifford said. “Both halves, the energy level. When those guys went in the game, they picked up our energy level, we really played offense off our defense. They ended up playing longer minutes than they may some nights, because they played so well.”
Evan Fournier had a big second quarter, scoring 9 of his 13 points in the period (struggled the rest of the game, finished 5-15 from the field).
The Magic could have enjoyed a larger lead at the break if not for their free-throw shooting. The Magic missed 9 of their first 18 free throw attempts.
The third quarter began pretty similar to the way the first quarter started: slow and flat.
And then Bamba began to take over the game.
The rookie center knocked down his first career three late in the third quarter to give the Magic a lead heading into the fourth quarter. It didn’t stop.
Bamba swatted a Dwyane Wade attempt into the second row early in the fourth, recorded another block in the paint moments later, slammed home an offensive rebound off a Grant miss, and then dunked another Orlando missed field goal attempt a few possessions later. When Bamba checked out of the game with 3:15 remaining in the contest, the Magic had built a nine point lead. It was a lead the Magic wouldn’t relinquish.
Although they tried. Miami cut Orlando’s lead to two with less than thirty seconds remaining. Orlando struggled with some of Miami’s ball pressure late, but did just (and I mean just) enough to get the win. They also continued their woes from the free throw line (Fournier missed two with 4.9 seconds left that kept Miami in the game).
Dragic (26 points) led all scorers in the game. Josh Richardson chipped in 21 points (8-21 FG’s) for the Heat, but turned the ball over during a crucial late possession (by stepping on the baseline).
But on Wednesday night, it was all about Bamba.
“I’m telling you, I really wasn’t nervous at all,” Bamba said after his first professional game. “I didn’t have any jitters. I came in, and I was just calm.”
“I messed up a little bit; normally when I try to block shots, I don’t try and throw them out of bounds,” Bamba added about his first career block. “We got the stop, and we were kind of rolling after that.”
He changed shots in the paint; he brought the crowd to their feet numerous times.
And speaking for all Magic fans everywhere, here’s to a lot “Mo” of that in the very near future.