If the opener of this series already appeared eerily reminiscent to the corresponding game in 2019, then Game Two was a genuine case of deja vu. After claiming an early series lead by upsetting a heavily-fancied opponent in Game One, the Magic were again rocked early in the second contest, with the Bucks looking to stamp their authority on a series many had expected them to sweep.
The opening minutes made clear that this would be a more intense Bucks outfit facing the Magic, a fact encapsulated by the direct play of their superstar, Giannis Antetokounmpo. The All-Star forward attacked the hoop early and often, slicing through the lane in transition any time when the Magic failed to get multiple defenders between him and the rim. Milwaukee also signaled their intent to shoot the three ball, with 6 of their first 10 attempts coming from behind the arc; early makes from Giannis and Brook Lopez put immediate pressure on Orlando’s defense.
At the other end of the floor the Magic struggled to recapture the same offensive fluidity they displayed in Game One. Lopez took up his customary position in the paint, luring Orlando’s ball handlers into the mid-range and daring his direct matchup, Nikola Vucevic, to again fire from deep. The Magic couldn’t capitalize from these spots like they did in the series opener, shooting just 3-17 from the field (17.6%), including 1-9 from deep (11.1%), across the game’s first 8 minutes. Markelle Fultz, Evan Fournier and James Ennis were a combined 0-9, while Vucevic misfired on his first 3 long-range attempts. Outside of a Gary Clark triple nothing looked easy. Going into a timeout the advantage was Milwaukee’s, 19-11.
When a reserve-heavy unit checked in the already sputtering offense came to a screeching halt. The Bucks tagged Ross hard to deny him any separation on the perimeter, and the team couldn’t find any space elsewhere to take advantage of. Some poor turnovers and awkward shot attempts exacerbated the situation, allowing Milwaukee to rattle off the final 6 points of the quarter. When the teams went to the first break it was 25-13 in the Bucks favor, with the Magic shooting just 12.5% (not a typo!) from the floor and having already accrued 5 turnovers. It was not a recipe for winning basketball.
While Orlando’s defense remained solid, including the wall of defenders they consistently put in front of Giannis, the offense remained an enormous problem. Stretching the end of the first and start of the second quarters the Magic went 8:38 without a made field goal, missing 14 straight shots and committing a pair of turnovers in the time. When Terrence Ross finally got a mid-range leaner to go it was only a temporary salve, as the team proceeded to clank another half-dozen attempts before a time out from Coach Steve Clifford provided a chance to regroup. The Bucks were starting to run away with things, stretching their lead to 37-19.
needed that.— Orlando Magic (@OrlandoMagic) August 20, 2020
now, let's get some more. pic.twitter.com/OukwMo4tgm
Although things got a little better for the Magic after the huddle, they still weren’t able to make major inroads into the deficit. Both Vucevic and Ross had some nice finishes at the hoop, while Fultz dropped in a smooth 20-footer. The three ball, however, remained entirely absent, with the Magic closing the half an almost unfathomable 1-16 from deep (6.4%). Additionally, Milwaukee looked to have largely figured out Orlando’s defense, with hard drives and crisp kickouts consistently finding wide open marksmen beyond the arc. The Bucks shook loose and drilled 5 triples in the half’s final four-and-a-half minutes, finishing 9-22 from deep across the opening two frames.
When the teams went to the locker rooms it was a 21 point margin facing the Magic, down 64-43. As a team they were shooting just 24.4% from the field, with Vucevic (5-10) and Ross (2-9) the only players to have made more than a single basket. In fact, if it weren’t for the 20 made free throws (on just 21 attempts!) — including a perfect 8-8 from DJ Augustin — Orlando would have been staring down the barrel of an all-time half of offensive futility. By comparison, at the half the Bucks had three players in triple figures and another pair with 9 apiece, and were shooting 50% as a team. The mantra of ‘make or miss’ was again proving prophetic.
Vucevic came out strong to start the third, draining two three point jumpers, cleaning up a tip-in at the basket, and getting a pair of free throws to go down as he racked up 10 points in a little over 3 minutes. However, Milwaukee were able to keep pace, with Wes Matthews punishing defenders slow to rotate to him on the perimeter and Giannis incisively powering into the paint as both a finisher and a playmaker. The Magic continued to grind away at both ends, eventually trimming the margin to 15 on the back of a Fultz triple.
Vooch scores our first 10 points to start the 3rd. pic.twitter.com/icI1vKmWap— Orlando Magic (@OrlandoMagic) August 20, 2020
Orlando continued to ride Vucevic’s hot hand, clearing out one side of the floor for him to go to work on consecutive possessions. The big man was able to make Milwaukee pay, moving his personal tally to 28 points on 11-16 shooting and providing a glimmer of hope for the Magic faithful. They reduced the deficit to just 12 at one point in the back half of the third, before some fortunate shots and scrappy possessions extended by the offensive glass allowed the Bucks to find points even while Giannis sat. So while a late long bomb from Ross ensured that Orlando were able to claim the quarter, they still went to the final break down 20, trailing 93-73.
The Magic’s reserves were able to make some headway at the start of the fourth, and when Vucevic checked back in with a little over 8 minutes to play the lead was down to 15. The teams largely traded baskets over the next few minutes before the Magic were able to string together a few stops, converting a four-on-two transition chance into a finish at the hoop for Ennis. They’d closed the gap to 11, trailing just 101-90 as the Bucks called for a timeout.
With the defense locked in Orlando continued to generate the stops they needed to give themselves a chance, with a Ross steal leading to a long Fultz jumper at the other end to cut the deficit to single digits. Vucevic answered a Giannis finish with an emphatic stuff on the offensive glass, before a 5 point burst to the Bucks — a slicing drive and dunk from Giannis when the Magic help defender failed to seal the nail followed by a Lopez triple from the corner — pushed their advantage back to 14. The margin stayed around this size through the last few minutes, with the score ultimately settling at 111-96 as the Bucks leveled the series.
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 — 32 points, 10 rebounds, 2 assists and a block, with 13-23 shooting from the field and 2-8 from deep. He was a dependable rock at both ends who threatened to single-handedly drag the team back into the contest when they had no right. Without the former All-Star’s contributions the offensive performance would have been an all-time howler from the Magic.
Second star: James Ennis — has provided the Magic with a much-needed dose of intensity and attitude through the first two games of the series. He finished this one with 8 points, 10 rebounds, 2 assists, a steal, charges drawn on Giannis, and physical defense that almost entirely silenced Khris Middleton once again.
Third star: DJ Augustin — he was held without a field goal from the floor but still managed to generate 10 points on 100% accuracy from the free throw line. He also had 5 assists on the night, and worked diligently to get the ball into Vooch’s hands when his teammate was feeling it.
With the second game in the books and the series now tied, the Magic will look to regroup and address their shooting woes. We’ll see on Saturday whether the team has it in them.