Sometimes a spark isn’t easy to come by for a professional sports team.
Sometimes you just don’t have your best stuff. You’re flat, and unable to ratchet up the intensity that you so desperately need to.
Other times that spark is easy to find, and comes out without any problem.
In their season opening victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Orlando Magic desperately needed a spark to get them going on both ends. The starters came out sluggish, missing defensive assignments, and struggling to initiate their offense.
Then came Markelle Fultz.
Fultz, seeing his first regular season action for the Magic, came in and gave them the jolt they needed. The third-year guard picked apart a porous Cavaliers defense getting to the basket at will, picking out his teammates for quality shots, and showing off the strong defensive instincts he possess’.
“He was the difference in the game,” said coach Steve Clifford. “We had our best stretch of play in the first half when he was on the floor. I think the game was at four, or six when he came in in the second half [and] his ability to get in the paint and finish plays, was the difference in the game.”
Fultz made his presence felt right, attacking the Cleveland defense, leading to three easy buckets at the rim. Add in a free throw line jumper, and Fultz quickly had eight points and had made his first four attempts from the field.
Needless to say, the former number one pick was feeling it.
“Any time you see the ball go in the hoop, for a basketball player and a hooper that loves the game, the rim just gets bigger and bigger,” said Fultz following the game. For me, it just gave me more confidence. It made me just say ‘it’s back, I’m good’ and just keep hooping.”
Fultz looked like the most comfortable player on the court. He looked like someone who hadn’t missed a second of action, or was battling back from being in a dark place in his life.
The confidence never shook, even when the shots didn’t fall in the second half. Fultz missed all of his attempts from beyond the arc, and made just two of his final eight attempts from the field.
Despite the missed shots, his confidence didn’t waver, he didn’t hang his head and let the misses effect him like some might. Instead, it pushed him to find ways to impact the game, showing off his brilliance as a passer on a no-look, behind the back bounce pass to Mo Bamba, and a wrap around to Nikola Vucevic.
Then, Fultz brought the house down with a monstrous, powerful spike between the Cleveland defense.
It was the cherry on top to an otherwise dream night for Fultz, who felt like he had the game he loved taken away from him when he couldn’t play for the better part of the last two seasons.
“I think it shows that coach trusts me,” said Fultz when asked what it meant to be on the floor late with the game on the line. “It shows the work that I put in over the summer. Like I said, it just gives you confidence. To be able to go out there and compete with the game on the line and try to pull out a win.”
Wednesday was another checkmark for Fultz as he works his way back into the gam that he’s poured so much of his life into. It showed glimpses of what could come and what he could bring this season as he continues to grow and get more comfortable on the floor.
Odds and ends
- Orlando struggled rebounding the ball on Wednesday night, something that they did extremely well last season. Prior to the game coach Clifford mentioned the importance on improving the rebounding, and his team struggled there once again. They gave up double digit rebounds to three Cavalier players, and it’s a concern that Clifford is ready to fix before it becomes a bigger issue.
- Clifford has talked at length about sticking with a nine man rotation because it’s easier for guys to get into a rhythm and be able to build on their performances if he’s distributing those minutes amongst nine instead of 10 guys. Wednesday night saw Clifford roll out 10 guys, partially due to it being early in the season, partially due to foul trouble. This could be something that we see the usually set in his ways Clifford stick with, however.
“I don’t feel like guys are ready to play their regular minutes, if I’m being honest with you. The other part of it is, one of the things in the preseason that was good was our defense. One of the things that we did, and I think we did that tonight, we’re creating more offense with our defense. Now, there’s a lot of reasons for that. [Al] Farouq does it, Markelle does it. But, the guy that we have, that’s the 10th guy, just because the other guys are good, is MCW [Michael Carter-Williams].
“He’s an elite defender. I’ve been around great defenders, this guy is big time. He can not only guard the best players on the other team, and make it hard on him, he creates offense with his defense. It’s something that, with people playing five-out, there aren’t many guys who can do what he can do. We need to have him ready when the first injury hits, we need to have him in rhythm. Plus, to be honest, in preseason and in practice, he’s been one of our three or four best players. We’re not ready to go to nine minute wise, and another thing he needs to be in rhythm for when we need a bigger role from him.