With All-Star captain Giannis Antetokounmpo out, tonight’s game took on a different complexion. A seemingly almost impossible assignment for the Magic -- beat the league’s best team on their home court -- turned into an opportunity, and it was one that they ultimately seized.
Behind the aggressive play of Eric Bledsoe, the Bucks jumped out to an early 8-0 lead, aided by poor shooting and wasteful turnovers from the Magic. Tentative play on the perimeter from Jonathan Isaac -- who passed up multiple wide-open looks and missed the one attempt he took -- was emblematic of the team’s slow start, as they struggled to generate meaningful possessions.
However, momentum turned when Orlando started to push the pace. Both DJ Augustin and Isaiah Briscoe attacked the rim whenever the opportunity presented itself, with other players running the lanes and slashing from the weakside to keep Milwaukee’s defense stretched. Combined with a renewed defensive effort that featured some stout challenges at the rim, the team ultimately took a 1-point lead into the first quarter break.
The Magic were able to keep things rolling in the second quarter. Terrence Ross was, once again, the key contributor, catching fire from deep, dropping a sweet dish to a rolling Khem Birch, and even setting a wonderful screen that created the necessary space for Nikola Vucevic to go to work. He racked up 13 points total in the frame, and when combined with some reliable scoring support from Vooch it allowed Orlando to maintain a double-digit lead throughout the majority of the period.
Another pleasing development during this quarter was the play of Isaac. He seemingly checked back into the game with a newfound confidence, taking and making two three-pointers not dissimilar to those he passed up early, while also finishing around the hoop and making a handful of his usual energetic defensive plays. He had 10 points at the half, the same figure as the Magic’s lead as players headed for the halftime oranges.
The score stood at 59-49 when the third quarter began. Across the first 8 minutes of the period the teams largely traded baskets, with neither side able to really generate any momentum. However, a nice kickout pass from Vucevic found Wes Iwundu for an open three, which was followed up on the next possession by a third make from deep for Isaac. Suddenly the lead was 15 and the Magic were seemingly a chance of breaking the Bucks’ resolve. They went into the final break up 79-64.
Milwaukee made a push, but the Magic were ultimately able to withstand it with relative ease. Briscoe had a fantastic final quarter, providing a steady presence at the point, drilling open shots and bottling up Bledsoe, while Gordon worked hard for some tough points after a scary fall. When it was all said and done both teams cleared the benches with a few minutes remaining, and the Magic emerged 20 point victors, 103-83.
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: Nikola Vucevic — he’s the team’s first All-Star in quite some time, and boy did it show. He racked up 15 points, 17 rebounds and 5 assists and served as the offensive anchor for the Magic.
Second star: Isaiah Briscoe — had 9 points and 7 assists in 24 minutes, but more importantly was everything the Magic needed from their backup point guard. He controlled the tempo with the ball in hand, while bottling up Bledsoe at the other end. A great performance in an important bench role.
Third star: Jonathan Isaac — after three minutes of gametime it looked like it was going to be a long night at the office for Isaac. To his credit he turned things around entirely, finishing with 17 points, 6 rebounds, 2 blocks and 3 makes from deep. Fingers crossed that the game serves as a real confidence builder.
Tonight’s win, even with Giannis in street clothes, was impressive. Orlando held the Bucks to 33% shooting (including just 17% from deep), overcoming the usual free throw discrepancy as well as cold shooting nights from Evan Fournier and Gordon. Orlando have bounced back after a tough stretch, improving to 4-1 in their last five games. This uptick has pulled them to within 2.5 games of the final playoff spot, and if they can take advantage of upcoming contests against sub .500 teams they’ll be in a position to make a real move.
It’s nice to be on the right side of a blowout margin for once. Let’s hope there’s more of this to come in the Magic’s near future.