This wasn’t the Markelle Fultz revenge game. It wasn’t even the Jonathan Simmons revenge game. Instead, it was a familiar haunting for fans of the Magic, with JJ Redick and Tobias Harris combining to sink a Magic side who should have been desperate for a bounce-back win after a deflating last-start performance. Orlando struggled to find the defensive intensity and effort needed to hang with one of the East’s best, while on offense they couldn’t leverage their frontcourt size advantage in any meaningful way.
Both sides opened the game on an offensive tear, drilling 3s and getting into the lane without much resistance. It was 19-16 in favor of the 76ers after a half dozen minutes, with the familiar faces of Redick and Harris doing most of the damage. Philadelphia may have been missing the size of Joel Embiid and Boban Marjanovic (among others), but they consistently looked to exploit mismatches at other spots on the floor; a small dual-point guard lineup from the Magic helped encourage this.
After 12 minutes of play the Magic were hanging tight. Aaron Gordon found a jump-shooting rhythm on his way to 14 points in the period, while DJ Augustin had a couple of aggressive drives and pretty finishes when he found a larger defender switched onto him on the perimeter. A couple of late triples from a rapidly heating up Gordon ensured that Orlando went into the first break within reach, down 39-34.
The torrid shooting continued as the second quarter opened. Orlando started out 6 of 8 from beyond the arc, while Philadelphia were even better at 7 of 9. If there was any concern that the Magic would struggle converting from downtown without the injured Terrence Ross it was shown to be ill-founded. Things did eventually cool off some, but some timely makes from Evan Fournier, a Jonathan Isaac triple from the corner, and an Augustin circus-shot and-one ensured the scoreboard continued to tick over.
For the Magic the primary concern was the defensive end of the court. The flurry of made 3-pointers stretched Orlando’s defense further from the rim, which opened up driving and cutting lanes for the 76ers. They also had great difficulty navigating the series of screens and DHOs that Philadelphia were using to spring Redick, as well as the general speed of the ball movement. Some slow rotations and close outs only compounded the problem. The end of the half saw the Magic trailing by 6, 70-64.
The main break didn’t seem to provide the Magic with any answers. The team lost Redick on one of the first possessions of the second half, allowing him a completely uncontested attempt as he racked up his sixth make from deep. With Ben Simmons facilitating out of the high post the 76ers repeatedly ran cutters down the lane with little resistance. Toss in some turnovers that resulted in fast break points and it’s easy to see how Philadelphia were able to stretch their lead to double figures.
Orlando entered the final frame down a dozen, but a quick 6-0 spurt breathing some life back into the team’s chances. However, Philadelphia were able to steady the ship, with the Magic struggling to generate high quality shot attempts once the opposition defense locked in a bit more tightly. Yet, the Magic hung around. After Fournier drilled his fifth 3-pointer of the game and Vucevic stuffed in a Gordon miss at the rim they found themselves down just two, 101-99, with a few minutes to play.
Jimmy Butler, who had previously been kept largely quiet, went to work during this final stretch. He had back-to-back clutch buckets, including a long jumper over an outstretched Vucevic. He also ensured his presence was felt at the defensive end, swiping a ball loose and generally providing tough resistance. Another Isaac corner 3 gave the Magic one final chance, before Mike Scott aswered with a long range make for a six-point lead. A drive by Fournier cut the lead to four and led to a Sixers timeout. On the ensuing inbounds, Vucevic intercepted the errand pass. He attempted a quick, ill-advised outlet pass to Augustin and turned the ball over, all but ending the game. When the clock showed zeroes it was 114-106, Philadelphia.
The Magic are now a half-game behind the Hornets and Heat for the eighth and final playoff spot in the East.
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: Aaron Gordon — he didn’t play a perfect game, with some questionable shot-selection the biggest blight, but he had a couple of hot streaks that kept the Magic within striking distance and his final line of 24, 9 and 3 paced the team. He found some success
Second star: DJ Augustin — his box score isn’t going to generate any double takes, but the steady veteran played a really solid game, effectively quarterbacking the offense and helping the team find an early rhythm. Some of his finishes going to the hoop were sublime.
Third star: Evan Fournier — Started out hot, seemed to go missing after the main break, but popped back up late in the fourth quarter with some timely makes. He did his best Redick impersonation for the Magic in this one, although the team would have liked a little more from him in way of playmaking.
With this loss the Magic -- temporarily, at least -- slip a half game behind the idle Hornets and out of the eighth seed. This would have been a nice one to steal, particularly considering the team’s recent inability to close out weaker opponents. Moving forward Orlando will need to be better against all manner of opponents.