When the NBA schedule was released prior to the beginning of the season, Magic coach Frank Vogel circled tonight’s game against the Bucks. Because the NBA scheduled his team to play on back-to-back nights (Texas to Florida) coming off a ten day West Coast road trip, Vogel assumed that Orlando’s match-up against the Bucks would be “the most difficult game” of the year.
“And that’s why they play the games” as Chris Berman’s expression goes. Vogel’s team, who arrived in Orlando just after 2:30 A.M. this morning, shot their way to a 126-117 victory over the Bucks and helped their coach earn his 300th career NBA coaching win.
“We fought very hard to not go win-less on that (West Coast) trip,” Vogel said after the game. “It was difficult to finish the way we did. I’m just happy our guys were able to come back and pull out a win. The fact that it’s my 300th - that’s a good way to do it I guess.”
The difficult finish to Orlando’s trip Vogel was referring to came last night in San Antonio. In that contest, the Magic scored a season low 72 points.
Tonight, very different story.
The Magic connected on 18 three-point attempts, matching their season-high (and franchise high at home). Jonathon Simmons led the barrage from deep, connecting on 7 of his 12 three-point attempts en route to 35 points on the night (a new career high for him).
“Shots just went in (11-22 FG),” Simmons said when asked about when he knew that he had it going tonight. “It’s not about having it or not having it, it’s the NBA. We work every day, it’s just that shots went in tonight.”
Starting point guard D.J. Augustin also had a huge game for the Magic. Augustin posted 32 points (9-15, 6-9 from 3PT) in the contest.
Jonathan Isaac was charged with the task of checking All-Star Giannis Antetokounmpo to begin the game. It was a tough assignment for Isaac, who struggled with Antetokounmpo’s strength in the paint and ceded six quick points to the Greek phenom in the game’s first four minutes.
The Magic began the game like they finished yesterday in San Antonio, connecting on just 3 of their first 10 shots. However, from there the Magic went on a brilliant 21-2 run to jump all over the Bucks.
The run coincided with Khem Birch checking into the game at the 5:42 mark. Birch steadied the ship defensively, while Augustin exploded for 16 first quarter points.
D.J. Augustin: 1️⃣3️⃣ first-quarter points pic.twitter.com/qow1xANgNH— Orlando Magic (@OrlandoMagic) March 14, 2018
The Magic, who led by 16 after the first period, began the second quarter with a lineup that featured Shelvin Mack, Rodney Purvis, Wes Iwundu, and Bismack Biyombo (along with Birch). Needless to say, the Magic struggled to score and allowed the Bucks to crawl their way back into the game behind a 10-0 run to begin the quarter.
A Purvis three-point make (the first trey of his career), followed by a Mack steal and Iwundu dunk in transition, stopped the bleeding in the second.
Behind strong first half contributions from Augustin, Simmons, and Nikola Vucevic, the Magic took a nine point lead into the half. The three starters combined to go 17-28 from the field in the first half (9-13 3PT), but the Magic got very little from anyone else.
Milwaukee briefly took the lead in the third quarter, but the Magic answered nicely with a 14-0 run.
Birch continued to play a huge role in the game in the second half. Birch found himself on various possessions successfully guarding Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker, and even Khris Middleton.
During one stretch in the third, Birch converted a dunk, grabbed a defensive rebound, then tapped out the subsequent rebound on Orlando’s offensive end, which led to a Simmons thunderous dunk (in which Birch assisted).
Mr. Simmons is having himself a night against the Bucks, as he takes flight for a two-handed slam! Watch the @OrlandoMagic in action live now on FOX Sports Florida! #PureMagic #NBA pic.twitter.com/PuZdeEmffz— FOX Sports Florida (@FOXSportsFL) March 15, 2018
“He was giving us great energy on both ends of the floor,” Vogel said about Birch. “Trying to find someone to match-up with Giannis Antetokounmpo is obviously very difficult. Khem came in and did as good of a job as you can expect on a guy like that.”
“Offensively, he’s someone that understands the extra pass,” Vogel added. “He was impacting the game on both ends and was a big reason why we got the W.”
Back-to-back “threes” from Mario Hezonja and Augustin with seven minutes remaining stretched Orlando’s lead to double-digits in the fourth. That was all the Magic needed to secure the somewhat shocking victory.
“It’s tough to explain,” Vogel said of Orlando’s success shooting tonight (after their miserable showing last night). “We score 72 points last night and couldn’t throw it in the ocean, and tonight we just executed better. Our guys were engaged, competitive, and really fought throughout the game.”
Antetokounmpo was a force for the Bucks, scoring 38 points and pulling down 10 boards. However, the forward didn’t receive a lot of help from his teammates in the second half.
“We have to get everybody to play hard from the beginning of the game which is what we already talked about,” Antetokounmpo said after the game. “That’s on everybody. The fact of the matter is in a couple of those stretches, like at the end of the third, things didn’t go the right way for us.”
Vucevic had a solid game for the Magic as well, scoring 22 points, grabbing 9 rebounds, and dishing out 9 assists.
The Magic can now get some rest before they look to make it two in a row at home Friday night as they take on the Boston Celtics.