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Orlando Magic bench stars in ugly, hard fought win over Miami Heat

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The Magic starters struggled on Wednesday night, but the bench kept them in it.

NBA: Miami Heat at Orlando Magic Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

There’s no secret the Orlando Magic came out flat in their season opening win against the Miami Heat on Wednesday night.

The visitors jumped on the hosts from the start, knocking down three-pointers, and wrecking havoc on a stagnant, and struggling offense for the Magic. Then, with their deficit up to 14, things quickly changed for the Magic.

Struggling to find their footing, the Magic turned to their second unit. Spear-headed by rookie Mo Bamba, and fifth-year man Aaron Gordon, the Magic quickly flipped the script energy wise, and got themselves back in the game.

“It’s always important for the bench [to come with energy],” said Jonathon Simmons. “Most of the time you have to pick up the starters. It’s good to have a good bench. A bench is supposed to bring you energy, bring better intensity. I think that’s what we did tonight, and we were able to get over the hump for our starters.”

With Jerian Grant running the point, and Simmons and Terrence Ross on the wings, the Magic looked like a completely different team with the reserves on the floor. Their ability to switch at seemingly every position wrecked havoc on the Heats offense, and guys making an extra pass, or going hard for a loose ball took the Heat out of their rhythm on both ends of the floor.

While Gordon finished the night with a game-high 26 points and 16 rebounds, the story of the game was still Orlando’s reserves.

“Obviously the story of the game was the bench play,” said a relieved coach Steve Clifford. “Both halves, the energy level, when they went in the game, they picked up our defense. We really played offense off our defense, which is, especially early in the year, more of what you have to do.

“They ended up playing longer minutes than they might some nights because they were playing so well. We just kind of went with them.”

Going with the reserves as long as they did, especially in the second half, is ultimately what won them the game.

Playing in his first game. Bamba showed the poise of a multiple-year veteran, always finding the right spot, and making the perfect play in the moment. One sequence in particular stood out, with Bamba rejecting a shot from Miami’s Josh Richardson, followed by Ross throwing two shots back in the face of Heat center Hassan Whiteside. On the ensuing offensive possession, Bamba cleaned up a miss with a put-back dunk over his Miami counterpart.

The roof nearly flew off the Amway Center with the thunderous roar after Bamba’s dunk.

“It was good,” said Ross when asked about the sequence, and how it changed the game. “Plays like that that bring energy, that’s how we want to play all year, with energy. Even in practice we want to play with energy and get better. We don’t want to take any days off.”

While Ross’ shooting performance was underwhelming— he finished the night 2-of-9 from the field — the rangy wing made a bunch of small plays that might not show up in the box score. From being in the right place defensively, to tipping passes, leading to steals for teammates, Ross was all over the floor, and one of the Magic’s best players all night.

“It helps me a lot [having Ross out there],” said Simmons. “I have another guy on the side of me that, has just as much energy as I have. With him, he’s a smart player. He knows when he’s going to get his shots, he knows how to play the game the right way. I think having him back and healthy is big for us, especially off the bench.”

It’s just one game, but the improvement from the bench is a welcoming sign for the Magic. They have improved depth from last season, and are going to rely on their bench to keep them in some games, and like Wednesday night, ultimately win them some games.

“We’re resilient,” said Aaron Gordon. “Everybody’s coming ready to play, everybody’s locked in, and that’s what helped us win this game.”

Resiliency, and strong bench play, will ultimately be a big key for the Magic, especially in the early portion of the season.