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Utah Jazz 94, Orlando Magic 80

Utah’s defense ruled the night as Orlando’s shots failed to fall

NBA: Orlando Magic at Utah Jazz Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Monday night’s game in Utah served to demonstrate two things: first, that the Utah Jazz are going to continue proving why they’re playoff-worthy with Rudy Gobert back in the lineup, and second, that the Orlando Magic have little to play for themselves. Behind a suffocating defense, the Jazz defeated Orlando 94-80. Gobert dominated the interior on both ends, leading all scorers with 21 points while collecting 17 rebounds and 2 blocks. For the Magic, Nikola Vucevic led with an efficient 15 points and 12 rebounds, but Aaron Gordon struggled, shooting just 4-18 from the field. Overall, the Magic shot only 34%.

The first quarter started as so many Magic games have recently: Orlando rode some hot shooting to an early lead. The 3-ball was especially kind, as five different players hit from long range to help the Magic go 5-10. They shot better than 50% from the field as a team, though it would not prove to be an accurate assessment of their abilities. Thanks to their balanced attack, the Magic held a tenuous 29-25 lead after the quarter.

The second is when it all fell apart, and the Jazz built a lead the Magic would not come back against. Their offense was practically identical to the Magic’s first 12 minutes of scoring, shooting roughly the same percentage while also hitting 5 3-pointers as a team. While it’s tempting to lay the blame on the bench (and their performance wasn’t spectacular), much of the damage came in the latter part of the period, an 11-point swing with primarily starters on the court. Gobert, along with standout rookie Donovan Mitchell and Joe Ingles, proved to be unstoppable during this critical stretch, shooting a collective 7-9 for 16 points. The Jazz rode that run to a 54-44 halftime lead.

The second half was fairly even, but the slow, grinding pace made any comeback efforts that much more difficult. Also complicating matters: Orlando’s dreadful shooting. They shot 30% in the second half, representing their struggles both near the basket and from long range. While their overall strategy was probably wise (they shot 17 3-pointers in a effort to narrow the margin), their inability to get the ball to go through the hoop made for a rough night of basketball.