Trailing by a game-high nine early in the first quarter, the Orlando Magic (13-17) needed someone to give them a shot of energy.
That energy boost quickly came from Jonathan Isaac, who was all over the floor all night for the Magic. His energy was contagious, and helped his team storm back to tie the game at 28 after one quarter.
Isaac’s impact continued the entire night, with him coming up with big defensive play after big defensive play. Late in the fourth, with his team up by six, Isaac once again made his presence felt.
As the Chicago Bulls’ (12-20) Zach LaVine retreated to the corner, Isaac closed out. LaVine, who’s prone to pump fake, went up, but Isaac didn’t go for it, instead slapping at the ball and knocking it off LaVine’s leg. The play helped keep some momentum on the Magic’s side, and allow them to hold onto their slim lead.
“I knew he likes to pump fake,” said Isaac following the game. “He got me with one where I kind of didn’t close all the way out to the body early in the game. So, once I got all the way to the body, he pump faked me, and put it back down, I just tried to get a quick tip and was able to get it off his foot.”
It wasn’t just Isaac who made plays defensively for the Magic, who notched a season-high 13 blocked shots. Mo Bamba got into the party swatting four shots of his own. Aaron Gordon had a set of blocks as well, including a monster chase down on Thaddeus Young early in the second quarter.
The activity level was reminiscent of the Magic team that finished last season on such a strong note. They played with their backs against the wall, and came out on top thanks to their strong defensive effort.
“We have size, we have versatility,” said coach Steve Clifford. “We have guys who can guard their own guys, and we’re not doing that. Tonight in the second half we did better. Frankly, before watching the film, like I just told them, shockingly, it was because we gave more effort. That’s where it always starts.”
It wasn’t just the defense that was reminiscent of the teams final 32 games last season, it was also where they found their offense.
After a sluggish road trip, Terrence Ross got things going early on and stayed hot all night. Ross knocked down a season-high six three’s off the bench, leading to a season- and game-high 26.
Without Ross, the Magic likely would’ve been down double digits at some point in the second half. He almost single handedly kept them afloat when the offense went through a lull in the third quarter.
“Obviously the other guys did great things, and without him [Ross], we would’ve been playing from eight-to-ten behind there in the third quarter,” said Clifford. “He kept us in the game. Then he made big shot after big shot.”
Getting things going the way they were at the end of last season could be just what the Magic needed from Santa Claus — aside from the Nintendo Switches he gifted the entire team — this holiday season.
The Magic also did a good job of taking care of the ball against one of the leagues most active teams defensively. Coming into the night, the Bulls were the best team in the league at forcing turnovers (18.5 per game) and scoring off turnovers (21.9 points per game).
After notching three early turnovers, the Magic turned the ball over just nine more times, leading to just 13 points for the pesky Bulls.
Despite the slow start, the Magic got a big, and much needed victory. With leading scorer on the season Evan Fournier having a quiet night, guys stepped up and made big plays when it mattered offensively.
Isaac flirted with am illustrious five-by-five, finishing with 13 points, nine rebounds, five assists, four steals and three blocks. Nikola Vucevic had 21, despite struggling with his shot. Aaron Gordon, who’s been mired in a slump of his own, finished with 16 points, 11 rebounds, four assists and three blocks.
LaVine led the Bulls with 26, with Tomas Satoransky adding 20.
The Magic now turn to a tough back-to-back on Friday and Saturday against the Philadelphia 76ers at home, and then on the road in Milwaukee on Saturday.