“Allow me to reintroduce myself...” is a lyric from Jay-Z’s song Public Service Announcement, featured on The Black Album (2003).
Markelle Fultz was only five years old when that song was released, but that’s exactly what he did Wednesday night.
Fultz re-introduced himself to the league, scoring 12 points and dishing out 6 assists in 23 minutes of action off Orlando’s bench, as he helped guide the Magic to a 94-85 victory on Opening night over the Cleveland Cavaliers. The former first overall pick from the 2017 NBA Draft hadn’t played in an NBA regular season game since last November 19th.
“Definitely - I don’t know if I’m the fan favorite, but I really felt their energy,” Fultz said after the game when he was asked about the support the Amway Center crowd gave him. “It boosted my energy and made the game fun.”
Boxing out some plus-rebounders such as Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson was a concern that Coach Steve Clifford mentioned prior to the contest, which proved to be true (Orlando was out-rebounded 54-46. Cleveland pulled down 10 offensive rebounds).
“I thought there were a lot of things that were typical of an Opening Night game,” Coach Clifford said in his post-game conference. “I though we did some good things. But the rebounding game is a problem (last year it was a strength). We haven’t rebounded in the preseason, we didn’t rebound tonight.”
Yet the Magic were able to overcome the rebounding discrepancy behind an especially strong second quarter that saw the team outscore the Cavaliers 27-17. Nikola Vucevic led the Magic with 21 points and 9 rebounds.
The game started off with both teams getting pretty much whatever they wanted. The Magic and Cavaliers combined to knock-down 13 of the first 20 field goal attempts in the contest.
The early difference-maker for Orlando was none other than Fultz. In his first game with the Magic, Fultz scored six quick points in the paint - getting in the lane seemingly effortlessly against smaller Cleveland defenders.
After setting up Mohamed Bamba with a lob off pick-and-roll action, Fultz proceeded to convert a baseline jumper moving to his right (off the dribble). Fultz led the Magic in the first quarter with 8 points (+6).
Orlando jumped out to a double-digit lead behind an opening 16-4 second quarter run. The Magic depth really started to show early on in the contest as ten Orlando players logged first half minutes.
Orlando held a 20-9 bench scoring advantage over Cleveland in the first half as they took a 55-41 lead into intermission.
The highlight of the first half was a Jonathan Isaac sequence where he swatted-away a Cleveland fast-break layup (chasing down the play), and then converted a bucket on the other end off the dribble while utilizing a pretty euro-step maneuver.
Jonathan Isaac just showed what has Orlando Magic fans salivating on both ends of the floor rejecting Cedi Osman and preventing his transition bucket before driving the length of the floor and finishing with a eurostep. pic.twitter.com/jzZFw61uk2— Preston Ellis (@PrestonEllis) October 24, 2019
Orlando came out a bit sluggish in the second half, which allowed Cleveland to cut their deficit down to five. However, the Magic responded nicely after a Clifford timeout midway through the third quarter, pushing their lead back to 14 points behind a furious 10-1 run.
Things didn’t come as easily for Orlando’s second unit when they came back on the floor in the second half. The ball wasn’t moving as crisply from side-to-side, shots weren’t falling, and personal fouls started to mount.
It was a two possession game at the beginning of the fourth quarter when the Magic started to impose their will on the Cavaliers a bit.
Terrence Ross and Bamba sunk three-points attempts on back-to-back possessions. And then this happened...
Fultz followed his emphatic slam with a nice dish in the paint to Vucevic two possessions later, and then added one more driving layup for good measure the next time down the floor.
“It was a thrill,” Fultz said after the game when asked about his dunk on the break. “I’ve dreamed about it; I’ve done a lot of those in my time. I saw the opportunity to go up and get one. My teammates have been giving me a lot of crap about not dunking, so I had to go up and get that one.”
“He was the difference in the game,” Clifford said after the game regarding Fultz. “We had our best stretch of play in the first half when he was on the floor, and the game was at six (points) in the second half when he came in. And his ability to get in the paint (and finish plays) was the difference in the game.”
“The more and more comfortable Markelle gets, the more he’s going to be able to showcase his talents,” Aaron Gordon said of Fultz in the locker room after the game. “He’s a very skilled basketball player that has a great feel for the game. We’re going to need him.”
D.J. Augustin checked back in for Fultz with 3:26 remaining in the game and Orlando’s lead at 14 points. A Vucevic paint conversion (and-1) with two minutes remaining in the contest effectively put the game away (although Cleveland made it interesting by catching fire in the last minute of the game).
The Cavaliers had four players score in double-figures, led by Tristan Thompson (16 points and 11 rebounds). Rookie guard Darius Garland scored eight points in his first career game (started at point guard).
But the night belonged to Fultz. And we even have a leader in the clubhouse (already) for wholesome moment of the year. Bamba joined Orlando media members surrounding Fultz’s locker after the game. He grabbed someone’s tape recorder and asked Fultz a question about his dunk.
“I think they were distracted by you (Mo), which led to my easy dunk,” Fultz replied when asked about his dunk by the second-year center.
It was just another really nice moment for Orlando’s prized reclamation project on his debut night.
The Magic are now off until Saturday when they hit the road to take on the Atlanta Hawks.