As with all basketball games, this was a tale of four quarters. The good news for the Magic is that they had a different face step up at the right time during each of these. As a result they were able to stay in touch early, eventually put their nose ahead, and then close out comfortably. With the win they move to 11-12 on the season, still in possession of the Eastern Conference eighth playoff spot.
The Magic started out sluggish, shooting the ball poorly across the first quarter and showing little cohesion and effort on defense. Nikola Vucevic and Evan Fournier were a combined 1 of 6 from the field, while the early returns from the reserve unit were poor. If Aaron Gordon hadn’t started the game by making his first four shots -- including a couple of pretty moves against Trevor Ariza and a banked three -- things might have gotten out of hand. Instead, the team trailed by just four to close the quarter, 21-25.
As he’s done a number of times already this season, Terrence Ross caught fire during the second quarter and provided Orlando with the uptick in energy and effort they needed. He racked up 13 points in the first half and at one stage helped push the Magic lead out to a half-dozen. His hot shooting included two pure makes from distance, a sweet jumper after he pulled up on a dime, and even another drawn foul on a long range attempt. He helped settle things down for the team when they needed it, and some better play from D.J. Augustin and Vucevic in the half’s closing minutes meant that they went to the break with a three point buffer.
.@OrlandoMagic wing Terrence Ross talks about how he put up his 13 points in the first half and how rebounding and energy are they keys to getting the win in Phoenix.#PureMagic #NBA pic.twitter.com/SVjO7fyreg— FOX Sports Florida (@FOXSportsFL) December 1, 2018
Orlando came out in the third quarter and displayed an obvious shift in energy. The offense was more purposeful, with passes finding players in better positions and space being generated. Vucevic was prominent throughout the term, drilling open threes when provided the room and then demanding the ball in close a couple of times when he sensed an advantage. He added 10 points to his total, and when combined with a couple of easy dunks for Gordon off broken plays it helped the Magic push the lead out to double figures.
However, just as it looked like they were starting to pull away, a recurring theme of the season reared its head again. Some sloppy play from the reserves allowed an (I think) 83-year old Jamal Crawford to start doing Jamal Crawford things, with 7 quick points closing the margin to 4 with a quarter to play.
Jamal Crawford only does two things in the NBA at this point of his career: shoot jumpers in the hope of drawing contact, and annoy Magic fans. He's done both tonight.— Orlando Pinstriped Post (@OPPMagicBlog) December 1, 2018
Across the end of the third and start of the fourth quarters the Magic went over 5 minutes without a made field goal, settling for a lot of stagnant possessions and long jumpers. It took a familiar face in Ross to break the slump, as he busted out for 6 quick points and a nifty assist to a wide-open Bamba to help rebuild Orlando’s buffer. Some timely makes from Vucevic and Augustin down the stretch ensured that they were able to comfortably close things out.
When it was all said and done the Magic emerged with a 99-85 victory, a much needed W on what has been a long and at times heartbreaking west coast road trip. Still, it wasn’t a great performance. The defensive effort was pretty poor throughout (particularly early), the shooting tough to watch early, and some dispiriting lapses evident at various points. Remember also that Phoenix were missing their best player in Devin Booker. Orlando are capable of more, but at least they took care of business when they needed to.
Orlando’s three stars
Hockey is a pretty great sport, so I thought I would steal one of its best little touches for my own game analysis: the three stars. Here is who caught my eye tonight.
First star: Nikola Vucevic — Like it was for most of the team it was a slow start for Vooch, but he ended up putting together a pretty thorough performance. He made timely buckets, occasionally took advantage of the Ayton matchup, most importantly, cleaned the glass and took away a lot of second chance opportunities for the Suns. He finished with 25 and 15.
Second star: Terrence Ross — It’s a little tough to knock him out of the first slot considering just how valuable his two offensive outbursts were. Make no mistake: without Ross and his rapid fire 21 the Magic likely don’t win this one.
Third star: Aaron Gordon — His 10 first quarter points helped the team keep up when things were looking bad. Most importantly, he displayed no lingering effects from his recent back issues, moving with ease and getting up around the rim for some nice finishes on multiple occasions.
That’s the end of a 5-game trip out west for the Magic. Before they head home they’ll make a Floridian detour for a date with Miami, where they’re a chance to creep back up to .500. Let’s hope they can build some momentum after this one.