The smart wager Saturday night when the Brooklyn Nets visited the Orlando Magic would have been to take the “over” in the game.
Orlando and Brooklyn squared off at Amway for the third time in fifteen days. The Nets won the previous two contests in January, totaling an average of 115.5 points in the two games.
It was a completely different story tonight, as the Magic made a point to set the defensive tone against the Nets. Orlando created a significant advantage for themselves in the “hustle stat” category, blocking 8 shots and recording 11 steals in the game.
First-time All-Star Nikola Vucevic recorded three blocked shots to go along with 24 points and 12 rebounds. Jonathan Isaac swatted three shots of his own, recorded three steals, and deflected numerous other attempted passes.
“I thought we played a good game tonight defensively (again),” Vucevic said after the game. “We were able to limit them (especially their three-point shooting). Once they got in the paint, I thought we did a good job contesting and making it tough for them to finish.”
The Magic jumped out to a double-digit lead in the first quarter fueled primarily by their defense. Vucevic and Isaac were especially disruptive early on, combining to block three shots and record three steals in the game’s first six minutes.
Isaac was all over the floor in the first quarter, arguably putting together the best 10 minute stretch of his young career. The second-year forward scored seven points, grabbed four rebounds, blocked two shots, and had one steal in the game’s opening period.
“He had a bunch of deflections,” Coach Clifford said after the game when asked about Isaac’s defensive impact. “This was one of our higher one or two deflection games, and I bet you he had the most. He’s gaining confidence and sustaining really good play every night.”
In one particular stretch, Isaac grabbed a difficult offensive-rebound in traffic and layed the ball in, hit a three-point attempt at the top of the key on the next possession, and then blocked a shot at the rim the following defensive possession.
After jumping out to a double-digit lead, the Magic failed to score a point the final two minutes of the first quarter. Problematically, the offensive slump carried well into the second quarter.
Orlando went 6-21 in the second quarter, scoring a meager 18 points in the period.
The Nets were led in the first half by first-time All-Star selection D’Angelo Russell, who scored 15 points before intermission (10 coming in the first quarter). Neither team shot the ball very well in the first half, however the Nets did get a nice lift off the bench from Shabazz Napier (11 points, 3-6 3PTA’s).
D.J. Augustin gave the Magic a big boost in the third quarter, helping Orlando regain control of the game. The veteran point guard scored 10 of his 12 points in the period.
D.J. IS OUT HERE BREAKIN ANKLES pic.twitter.com/pj714oEFCp— Orlando Magic (@OrlandoMagic) February 3, 2019
The Magic outscored the Nets 34-22 in the third quarter. Brooklyn turned the ball over seven times in the period, which led to 14 points for the Magic.
In rather surprising fashion, second-year wing Wes Iwundu scored 7 consecutive points to close out the third quarter for the Magic, who took an eight-point lead into the game’s final period. Iwundu finished with 10 points and 6 rebounds in the game, his second consecutive solid showing since being reinserted into the regular rotation (due to a Jonathon Simmons abdomen injury).
“No question, both of those shots were against the zone and they had us on our heels there,” Clifford said of Iwundu’s second half contributions. “He hit the three in the comer and then he had the drive with his left-hand. They were big baskets.”
Orlando stretched their lead back to double-digits with a Vucevic lay-in with just over five minutes remaining in the game.
After a couple successful offensive possessions by the Nets, an Evan Fournier three-point make with 3:31 left in the game (followed by back-to-back field goals from Vucevic) put the game away.
All five Magic starters finished in double-figures in the game.
Russell finished the game with 23 points (8-17 FGA’s), but only three of those points came in the fourth quarter (which was a big improvement from the last two games between these clubs).
The guys in Orlando’s locker room after the game all felt that the team still has one last run in them. The organization has one more game on the road (Oklahoma City) before next Thursday’s NBA Trade Deadline and currently sits at 22-31, nine games below .500 and just three games back of the eighth-seed in the Eastern Conference.
“This team - we’ve got enough talent to do whatever man, it just starts in practice,” Iwundu said in front of his locker. “Keeping our mindset right and focused, the determination to come into each game (and try to win the game). I think if we do that, we give ourselves a good chance to compete with anybody.”