The numbers in this one make for wacky reading. A 14 point first quarter. A 41 point fourth quarter. 22 turnovers, including 11 in the first alone. 0 points for Aaron Gordon in the first half. 2 mind-boggling fouls in the last minute by an otherwise game-best Evan Fournier. The Jazz hovering around 30% shooting for the entire night, yet leading most of the way. And finally, the only number that counts - a second win for a perfect international trip. How did this one play out?
The first quarter was a terrible twelve minutes of basketball, no matter how you look at it. Outside of Fournier and his 10 points (including back-to-back threes that hinted at a heartbeat) the Magic weren’t able to get anything going offensively. They were clearly rattled by the presence of Rudy Gobert at the rim, either settling for low-quality chances or squeezing passes into space that didn’t exist. This carelessness with the ball resulted in 11 turnovers in the quarter, a number perilously close to their per-game average. Somehow, things were tied at 14 when the buzzer sounded.
Things didn’t get much better in the second. Terrence Ross came in and provided some of his instant offense to keep the scoreboard (slowly) ticking over, while DJ Augustin also added 6 in the quarter to help keep it close. This included a massive three to beat the buzzer and close the half, with the diminutive point guard putting Gobert on skates and drilling the shot once he had him moving the other way. It might be the only play from the whole game worthy of a highlight reel.
When the first half came to a close it was 35-33 Jazz, with Fournier and Ross combining to account for 21 of the team’s point. For Magic fans, it was Gordon’s scoreless half with 5 turnovers that stung the most.
Orlando continued their cold shooting throughout the opening stages of the second half, allowing the Jazz to build a double-digit lead. They clanged shots, the ball movement dried up, and defensively they kept losing Utah’s cutters. However, a Fournier layup driving to the hoop signalled a shift. The Magic rattled off 11 straight to tie the game at 48, including a rhythm three from Nikola Vucevic and a nice steal and open-court dunk from Simmons. The teams largely traded buckets for the remainder of the period (including an absurd banked three from Gordon), with the quarter closing at 59-55 in favour of the Jazz.
The effort, if not the quality of play, picked up during the fourth quarter. The bench-heavy unit worked hard with the ball in hand to get high percentage shots, while defensively they remained active. It looked like they might be able to keep things within striking distance for when the starters returned.
Then, it happened: the Bamba and Ross show.
A Mo Bamba triple briefly gave the Magic the lead, which was followed by an en fuego Ross making the game his own. He racked up 10 in the quarter, including a pair of ice cold buckets from deep, a nice make slicing down the lane, and a smooth pull up from near the elbow. Throw in a Bamba smash block and an absurd dribble, drive and finish from the rookie big and suddenly Orlando were in the box seat heading into the game’s final minutes.
Across the last six minutes the Magic did what was required to hold on for the Mexican sweep. Augustin and Vucevic ran a couple of nice two-man plays, Fournier hit some decisive buckets, and the defense remained generally solid by consistently contesting and challenging the Utah shooters. A few more careless turnovers and ill-advised fouls made things a little more difficult than it probably should have been, but a beautiful team basketball play that ended with a dagger triple from Aaron Gordon was probably the point when Orlando had done enough. A parade of free throws eventually made it official.
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: Evan Fournier — The Frenchman’s offense kept the team afloat in the first half, and he was good enough down the stretch to seal it. Sloppy in moments, but without his production the Magic don’t get close in this one.
Second star: Terrence Ross — The swingman continued his torrid scoring from the sixth-man role, dropping 19 for the game on absurd 8-9 shooting. He’s proven he can go nova at any moment, and tonight it was needed.
Third star: Mo Bamba — Did you see that dribble-drive finish? Did you see those blocks? Did you see the sweet stroke from beyond the arc? Tonight was one of those nights when it was clear to see why the front office zeroed in on the rookie at the last draft. Apologies to Vooch and his ‘kind-of-quiet’ 15, 19 and 5.
The Magic head back to Florida on a two-game win streak, and again within swinging distance of a .500 record. They’ll try to get there in a showdown with the Spurs on Wednesday. We’ll catch you all back here then when the ball tips!