Something about Game 1 of the first round seems to bring out the best in the Orlando Magic.
For the second straight season, a heavy underdog Magic team walked off the court with a shocking Game 1 win. This year’s victory was even more impressive than last year’s, when D.J. Augustin hit a go-ahead three in the closing seconds of Orlando’s dramatic win over the second-seeded Raptors.
They topped that on Tuesday afternoon, leading the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks for all but 3:25 of game time, and winning, 122-110, in convincing and stunning fashion.
The Magic in the four-game regular season series against the Bucks were swept easily, losing by an average margin of 17 points and failing or struggling to reach 100 points in each. In Game 1, they dropped 122 points and shot 50 percent against the league’s top defense.
The shorthanded Magic were playing without half of their rotation – missing Aaron Gordon, Michael Carter-Williams, Mo Bamba, Jonathan Isaac and Al-Farouq Aminu. In Game 1, they got key contributions from role players like Gary Clark, James Ennis, Khem Birch and Wes Iwundu.
The Magic were putting their hopes in the hands of Nikola Vucevic, who was shut down in the postseason last year, averaging 11.2 points on a dismal 36 percent shooting whie being silenced by Marc Gasol and the Raptors. In Game 1, Vooch went off for a season-high 35 points, 14 rebounds and four assists, while shooting 15-for-24 from the field, including 5 of 8 from three, in what was the best performance of his career.
The Magic entered as 13-point underdogs. They won by 12.
They came out firing early on, moving the ball extremely well and forcing nothing. They hit eight of their first nine shots, capped by a Gary Clark three that opened a 20-10 Magic lead. After the Bucks responded with a 9-0 run, Markelle Fultz took advantage of a Milwaukee defense that tends to collapse into the paint to avoid giving up easy lay-ups. Fultz, who entered having played a grand total of 23 postseason minutes in his career, showed off his mid-range game, hitting a pair of jumpers to increase the Magic lead to 24-19.
The Magic closed the quarter on a 13-4 run, capped by a three by Nikola Vucevic off a D.J. Augustin kick-out with 19.9 seconds left that gave Orlando a 33-23 lead heading into the second. Efficient shooting from Vucevic and Fultz paced the Magic in the first quarter as the team shot 63 percent overall. Vucevic had 12 points on 5-for-6 shooting and Fultz added eight, making all four of his field goal attempts in what on 4-for-4 shooting.
The Magic lead grew to 18 in the second quarter after a deep three by James Ennis sparked an 11-2 Magic run that opened a 51-33 advantage with 5:29 remaining in the half. The Bucks answered with a 10-0 run before Clark drained another three to push the lead to 54-43. Fultz and Giannis Antetokounmpo exchanged threes before the Greek Freak was called for a flagrant foul on a Clark three. Clark hit all three free throws, and Terrence Ross soon followed with a pretty reverse layup in transition to increase the Magic lead to 14 with 53 seconds left in the half.
The Magic would head into the break with a 62-52 lead after shooting 51 percent, hitting 8 of 20 three-point attempts (40 percent). Vucevic had 16 points and seven rebounds. Fultz added 11, shooting 5 of 6. Clark had 12 first-half points, going 3 of 7 from deep.
The shorthanded Magic managed to build their lead with Evan Fournier being a non-factor. Fournier went scoreless in 17 first-half minutes, going 0-for-3 from the field.
The Magic defense frustrated the Bucks, who commit nine first-half turnovers. With the Magic defense constantly collapsing down low to wall off Giannis from entering the paint, the Bucks were forced to try to beat Orlando from the outside.
Milwaukee shot 41.3 percent in the half, going 8 of 21 from three. The Magic lead could have been larger had they done a better job keeping the Bucks off the offensive glass. Milwaukee grabbed seven first-half offensive rebounds for eight second-chance points.
A quick 9-2 run by the Bucks to open the third and make it a one-possession game led to an early Steve Clifford timeout. The Bucks soon pulled within one and it seemed the Magic’s grasp on Game 1, one that many assumed they’d inevitably relinquish, was lost.
But Vucevic wouldn’t allow that to happen, answering with a three and scoring 14 points in the third on 6 of 9 shooting. The Magic overall continued hitting shots (shooting 48 percent in the third) to reestablish a double-digit lead. Another Vooch three with 3:26 left in the third put the Magic on top, 86-74. The Magic carried a 92-79 lead into the fourth.
The Bucks again made a run in the fourth, opening the quarter with a four-point play by Kyle Korver. A three by Pat Connaughton made it a five-point game before the Magic, once again, answered. This time it was D.J. Augustin and Terrence Ross, who combined to score the next 11 Orlando points, highlighted by a Ross thrown down and an Augustin step-back three that helped the Magic go ahead 106-93 midway through the fourth.
Fournier’s first points finally came with just under five minutes remaining as he hit a three to push the Magic lead to 112-97. When the Bucks pulled within 10, Fournier added another three to put the Magic up 115-102. He then added another, making it 118-102 and sealing the Magic’s upset win.
Orlando shot 49.4 percent from the field, hitting 16 of 41 three-point attempts (39 percent). Six players finished in double-figures, with Vooch leading the way as previously mentioned. Clark had 15 points, going 4 of 12 from three, including some key makes that provided the Magic the separation they needed when the Bucks made a run.
Ross added 18 off the bench despite missing all three of his attempts from deep. Augustin finished with a double-double: 11 points and 11 assists. Fultz had 15 points on 6-for-11 shooting and added six assists. Ennis had 11 points and eight rebounds.
Despite the Magic’s impressive and physical defense, Giannis still got his, with 31 points and 17 rebounds (and gotta give some credit to the refs for not giving typical star postseason treatment when GIannis was looking for calls). His supporting cast, though, was held mostly in check, with Khris Middleton scoring a very quiet 14 points on 4 of 12 shooting. George Hill had 16 points and Eric Bledsoe added 15 for Milwaukee, which shot 43.3 percent, including 14 of 42 from three (14-for-42), and had 16 turnovers.
The goal now for the Magic is to not allow what took place in last season’s first round series to happen again. After their stunning Game 1 win over the Raptors, the Magic were outmatched while losing the next four games. And we all know how that ended for Toronto.
But in Game 1, the Magic showed that when they play their brand of defensive basketball and make some shots (and when Vooch outplays Giannis), they can beat anyone.
The Orlando Magic, masters of Game 1 of the first round, walked off the court with what was their most impressive victory in nearly a decade.