Stop me if you’ve heard this before.
The Orlando Magic surged out to an early lead behind exquisite shooting, and nearly matched their first quarter high this season (43 points), with a blistering-41 point performance. While they would settle for a 28-point second quarter, an encouraging six point lead (69-63) would have to do, as the teams broke for halftime.
However, for the Knicks, it was just as simple as substituting Emmanuel Mudiay and Enes Kanter in favor of Trey Burke and Kyle O’Quinn.
Burke looked every bit the top ten lottery selection, and less the fifth year journeyman in this contest. He was electric offensively, played the role of Magic spoiler to the tune of 26 points, six assists and three rebounds on 12/22 shooting in just under 30 minutes off the bench. He carried a whopping +15.
O’Quinn did his dirty work in the paint, at one point in the third quarter grabbing offensive rebounds on three consecutive possessions and forcing his will against the substantially wealthier Bismack Biyombo. He would finish with 14 points, eight rebounds (four offensive), and three blocks.
These two teams carried arrows pointing in different directions heading into this contest. The 23-win Knicks were flummoxing without their unicorn, Kristaps Porzingis. Conversely, the Magic regained a great bit of firepower, as they received over 24 minutes each from Nikola Vucevic, who had 19 points and six rebounds, and Aaron Gordon, who added nine points, five rebounds and five assists.
So why did the Magic crumble in the second half? They were outworked, and they know it.
“They tried harder than us,“ Gordon said.
“We didn’t trust each other,” Shelvin Mack said.
“Lack of movement, momentum, we didn’t get stops,” Evan Fournier said.
“Defensively, we weren’t good enough,” Vucevic said.
The Magic said all the right things, and have not given up, and that is to be commended. Frank Vogel showed frustration, but little concern, as he truly believes these guys want to play the right way and have the time to close the year having built something positive to carry into the next season.
The time has come to turn the page on this season. The Magic must begin focusing purely on development, growth, and discipline.
The Knicks won this game with inferior talent, because they worked harder, and took care of the basketball (nine turnovers).
Not to discredit the Magic players, who fought hard, and a lot of good can be taken from this match. Fournier and Vucevic picked up right where they left off, connecting on dazzling transition baskets. Mario Hezonja continued his ever surprising play offensively despite returning to the bench in favor of Gordon. Hezonja finished with 15 points on 7-for-15 shooting in 27 minutes.
Wesley Iwundu had a couple of awkward air balls, but quickly righted his mistakes with steals and fast break points.
The Orlando Magic need to focus on developing this young talent, including finding more minutes for Khem Birch (three minutes).
The Magic had every opportunity to win this contest, and yet they found a way to lose it. The upcoming schedule will offer no reprieves with the ever looming 76ers, Thunder and Raptors.
The Magic have the talent to surprise us, and potentially surprise these foes, but at this point, I’d rather cultivate young talent and begin focusing on the future.
Notes: Tim Hardaway Jr. had 23 points and six assists in 34 minutes. Fournier led the Magic with 25 points. Jeff Hornacek called a timeout earl in the third quarter as his squad trailed 76-65, and to his credit, whatever he said worked, as the Knicks stormed back on a 12-0 run.
Next for the Magic is the Philadelphia 76ers this Saturday at 5 p.m.