It was a little over five minutes into the game when Aaron Gordon collected an offensive rebound and threw down an authoritative two-handed dunk. With this bucket the Magic opened up a 15-6 lead over the 76ers, and for all intents and purposes they looked like the best team on the court.
Oh how things can change in a (relative) heartbeat.
Philadelphia, led by a monstrous performance from Joel Embiid, closed the first half on a dominant 52-25 run and basically obliterated any hope of this being a competitive game. Philadelphia’s big man had 19 and 8 at the break, and was ably complemented by the Australian Ben Simmons, who had 6 first half assists to go with his 10 points and consistently looked dangerous when pushing the pace and attacking the hoop.
With the sting largely out of the game in the second half the Magic were able to avoid having the margin blow out any further. However, they never really turned it into a legitimate contest, despite getting within 9 with 1:47 to play. Philadelphia’s bench squad ultimately closed it out as the Magic racked up their 41st loss of the season.
For the Magic, Gordon finished with 20, 7 and 7, Nikola Vucevic racked up 15 and 8, and Mario Hezonja had 13 and a breathtaking block in his role off the bench. Embiid ended up dropping an absurd 28 and 14 (in 27 minutes!), Simmons collected 17 and 7, while familiar face JJ Redick had a very efficient 16 points.
Let’s dive in and pick apart some of the more interesting elements of this one.
Oh boy, it’s tough finding kind words to describe Orlando’s offensive output during this one. Outside of the games’ first five minutes the team largely looked lost and directionless with the ball in hand, with a staggering number of possessions ending out of an isolation play or after just one pass. Jonathon Simmons couldn’t finish at the hoop, Evan Fournier was cold from deep, and Gordon was again very rusty early. Outside of a few nice looks from Vucevic there wasn’t much to get excited by.
Perhaps the most dispiriting aspect of this performance was just how rudderless the team appeared. Any off ball movement basically died any time simple hand-off action failed to generate a chance, and outside of some basic floppy sets during the games early stages there wasn’t much in way of effective offense. The 76ers did an excellent job of collapsing to protect the rim and restricting opportunities inside, with the Magic limited to just 42 points in the paint for the game. There was also a good, ol’ fashioned Orlando in-bounds violation, which speaks largely to a lack of effort and execution.
The Magic really struggled to stop the 76ers from getting what they wanted, with much of this coming as a result of the exploitation of over-matched assignments. Although Vucevic was able to at least force Embiid into some tougher shots (many of which he made anyway), both Bismack Biyombo and Khem Birch were eaten alive in this match up. Similarly, Philadelphia’s Simmons largely had his way with his Orlando surname counterpart when they ended up on each other, particularly in the post where he was able to use his frame to bully his way to the rim. Philadelphia shot the ball well (52% for the game) from all areas, and further supplemented this with 27 trips to the line. Those are hard numbers to overcome for any team.
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: Aaron Gordon — He’s still a long way from his form from the start of the season, but there were flashes there today that he might get most of the way back before the season is done. His shooting stroke looked better in the second half, and he consistently made good decisions with the ball in hand on his way to a career-high 7 assists.
Second star: Nikola Vucevic — Played Embiid relatively well and provided his normal shtick on offense. He’s usually solid but rarely spectacular, which was again the case tonight.
Third star: Any fans who were not comatose by the end of the first half — Seriously, this was a tough watch. During the 52-25 run the Magic were at their worst, committing all of the familiar errors and lapses that we’ve come to expect of them over the last few seasons.
The season rolls on for the Magic with a Monday night showdown in Oklahoma City, where they will need to be much better if they are to stand a chance of registering a win. Join us back here at OPP to see if they’re up to the challenge.