The Magic came into tonight’s contest looking to continue their winning ways against the upstart Hawks. It was ultimately not to be, however, with a clunky offense and lethargic defensive rebounding condemning the team to its first loss of the season.
The early stages of the game belonged to Trae Young. The Hawks second year star hit his first four shots of the game, including a pair of makes from deep. He was having his way with an outmatched DJ Augustin; he couldn’t stay in front of the slithery point guard and actually lost him on a few broken plays, one of which ended with a wide open Young triple from the corner. Yet the Magic were able to stay in it, capitalising on an Aaron Gordon advantage on the block while also seeing Evan Fournier make some vintage plays from the perimeter.
The complexion of the game changed when the Magic went to their bench, with Markelle Fultz and Terrence Ross both making an immediate impact. Fultz was able to slow Young down some, while on offense he was aggressive and incisive. He showed zero hesitation on multiple long jumpers, drilling a 15-footer and later a three-pointer from above the break. All in all he was 2-5 for the period, with none of his attempts coming in the paint. Ross added a triple of his own from the corner, as well as playing some pesky defense on Young on a handful of possessions. The ship had been steadied and Orlando took a 26-23 lead into the first break.
The second quarter featured a lot of back-and-forth between two evenly matched sides. Augustin and Young got into it again, with the Orlando veteran getting a couple of baskets at the rim to even the ledger some. Nikola Vucevic started to get a feel for his shot, while Fournier took advantage of a matchup with Kevin Huerter to get some easy mid-range floaters. However, the Magic weren’t able to stem the tide at the other end, allowing the Hawks to convert from the field at a clip of 50% (despite cold three-point shooting) and feast in the paint (28 points in the lane at the half). Things looked ominous.
Like in the first quarter though, a Fultz injection with a little under 5 to play in the half shifted the momentum. Shortly after stepping onto the court he drilled a catch-and-shoot three, hit Isaac with a great pass as he sliced down the lane, soared for a tip-dunk attempt that put him on the line, and then found Isaac again with a nifty behind-the-back pass in transition that got the Magic back within a basket. When the half closed it was 52-50 in Atlanta’s favour, with the game well and truly in the balance.
It was a familiar face doing damage during the opening stages of the third quarter. Young created 9 early points for the Hawks, including a ridiculously deep make in transition after forcing a turnover from Gordon at the other end. His quarter-opening burst dropped Orlando into a 52-61 hole, and with the offensive end presenting such difficulty it was starting to look like a long road back.
Still, the team persisted. A steady diet of Vucevic-Gordon pick and rolls generated both attempts at the rim and free throws, while Fournier continued his aggressive play from the first half. He had 8 total in the quarter, including a pair of excellent drives slicing through the heart of the Hawks’ defense. Despite all that had gone poorly -- 35.6% shooting from the field, 17.4% from deep, a significant fastbreak disadvantage, and a lopsided rebounding count -- a Michael Carter-Williams three at the buzzer (for real!) ensured the Magic were still in it, down just 2 heading into the final frame.
A more aggressive Orlando outfit took the court to start the fourth, particularly at the defensive end. They swarmed Young to force the ball out of his hands, with Carter-Williams continuing to be his normal, intensely-pesky self in forcing turnovers. He was a defensive blur, punctuating a particularly effective sequence with a rebound in traffic and Fultz-like hammer at the other end to force an Atlanta timeout with 6:42 to play. This was the end of a 15-6 run that pushed the Magic out to a 5 point margin.
The game turned into a slugfest during the final minutes, with neither team able to decisively seize the upper hand. Young and DeAndre Bembry generated good looks for the Hawks, while the Magic leaned on the veteran pair of Fournier and Vucevic. Tied at 97 apiece coming out of a timeout with 73 seconds remaining, the contest was crying out for a hero. Unfortunately for Orlando it was Trae Young who stepped up one final time, careening into the lane for a layup, banking an absurd triple on a stepback, and icing 1 of 2 free throws to seal it for Atlanta. When the dust settled it was 103-99 Hawks.
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: Markelle Fultz — he may not have had the Magic’s gaudiest stat line but he was undoubtedly the biggest difference-maker. He shot the ball confidently, created chances for his teammates, and played solid defense in the Young matchup. His first-half performance was a bright spot in a tough loss.
Second star: Evan Fournier — looked a lot more like FIBA Fournier than the 2018/19 version that disappointed so many. He was aggressive and purposeful with the ball in hand, and helped keep an awkward offense afloat for much of the night.
Third star: Nikola Vucevic — like the rest of the team he struggled with his jump shot all night long, but he was a relatively dependable presence for a side that didn’t generate many easy looks. He got on the offensive boards during the fourth quarter and with some friendlier bounces we might be talking about that as the difference. Alas.
Ice cold shooting and poor execution down the stretch doomed the Magic in this one. They’ll drop to .500 on the season ahead of a road date with the defending champion Raptors on Monday. Coach Steve Clifford has plenty of kinks to work out before the next one tips.