The Magic hoped to treat their preseason finale as if it were their regular season opener.
And they did...for three quarters.
Things initially fell apart in the fourth quarter as the Magic turned a 16-point lead into a seven-point deficit and then turned that into a last-second victory, rendering all team stats from the game essentially meaningless. But prior to all of that, the Magic showed encouraging signs in what was a 120-117 victory over the Hornets.
It began with Nikola Vucevic starting the game like a Splash Brother, hitting three three-pointers in the games opening minutes as the Magic established an early lead. Steve Clifford said he wants Vucevic shooting more threes this season, and Vooch quickly and effectively took full advantage of that green light on Saturday, hitting 4 of 6 attempts (7-for-11 FG) over 26 minutes to finish with 18 points.
The Magic overall in the first connected on 6 of 11 attempts from deep and shot 52 percent overall in the quarter. Defensively, the Magic denied the Hornets the spacing they received on Thursday night, and forced Charlotte into six turnovers in the opening quarter.
Aaron Gordon had his best game of the preseason, though he did show a mix of his ability to be a playmaker while working out of the paint or on drive-and-kicks with a tendency to dribble the Magic right out of an offensive possession. Gordon finished a very active first quarter with seven points, five rebounds and two assists as the Magic built a 17-point lead and closed the quarter up 38-27.
The Magic continued hitting from the perimeter in the second quarter - with three makes coming from Terrence Ross - and in the first half combined made 10 of 20 attempts. The defense continued pressuring the Hornets, forcing them into 12 first-half turnovers. All combined it helped the Magic carry a 63-49 lead into the break.
That lead reached as many as 23 in the third after Vooch hit his fourth three of the game and Evan Fournier followed with another to make it 89-66 with 3:23 remaining.
That was when the second unit checked in....and never checked out.
Up to that point, the second unit had been perhaps the most positive takeaway in the preseason for the Magic. But this would be a stretch to forget, and Clifford was not about to put his starters back in to clean the mess his reserves had made.
With Cole Anthony, Terrence Ross, Michael-Carter Williams, Chuma Okeke, and Khem Birch on the floor, the Hornets closed the third on a 9-2 run, trimming the Magic lead to 94-78.
That same unit for the Magic was unable to score a point over the first 4:34 of the fourth, during which time the Hornets had opened the quarter on a 23-0 run to take a 101-94 lead with 8:02 left.
A dunk by Okeke ended the drought and sparked a 9-0 Magic run that put them back on top at 103-101 with 5:27 left.
Anthony, who to that point had struggled in the fourth with some untimely turnovers, then went into closer mode, scoring 10 points over the game’s final five minutes. That began with a three off a feed from Okeke to put the Magic ahead 106-102. After an 8-0 Hornets run put them up 115-111, Anthony responded with a drive to cut the Magic deficit to two. Trailing by four with under a minute left, Anthony found Devin Cannady, who hit a huge three to pull the Magic within 117-116. On the ensuing Magic possession, Anthony came up with his first NBA game-winner, hitting a go-ahead floater with 14.1 seconds left to give the Magic a 118-117 lead.
He then sealed it with a pair of free throws, helping the Magic finish the preseason with a 2-2 record.
Anthony finished with 19 points on 7-for-14 shooting, including 2 of 5 from deep. He had four assists, five turnovers and a valuable lesson in cleaning up your own mess at the NBA level.
It was the conclusion of a very impressive preseason for the rookie, who is showing very early signs that the Magic very well may have landed the steal of the 2020 draft.