With their season hanging in the balance, the shorthanded Orlando Magic came out fighting.
For three quarters, they made shots, played solid defense, and kept pace with a Bucks team that toyed with them in Game 3.
It was a one-possession game after the third quarter. And then came the fourth.
The Magic offense went cold early in the fourth, and Khris Middleton broke out of his series-long slump at the worst possible time for Orlando, helping the Bucks pull away in their 121-106 win in Game 4 to take a 3-1 series lead. It was a hard-fought performance by the undermanned Magic, who are now one loss away from a second straight first round gentlemen’s sweep after winning Game 1.
The Magic defense came out strong, making perfect rotations and closeouts to limit the Bucks to 33 percent shooting in the first quarter. Giannis had eight points in the first but his supporting cast was held to 5 of 18 shooting.
The Magic also struggled from the field early, shooting 35 percent and turning the ball over six times in the quarter. They still managed to keep it close, with Nikola Vucevic finding a cutting Khem Birch for a three-point play that pulled the Magic within 20-18 with 2:40 left in the quarter.
An 11-2 Magic run carried into the second, capped by a D.J. Augustin three that gave Orlando its first lead at 24-22 early in the quarter.
Evan Fournier’s struggles continued early as he missed his first four shots before hitting a three to tie it at 41. The Bucks responded with a 7-0 run, capped on an Eric Bledsoe layup in transition off a bad inbounds pass from Markelle Fultz to give Milwaukee a 48-41 lead.
A quick 8-2 run by the Magic, highlighted by threes from Vucevic and Gary Clark, made it a one-point game. Vooch drained another three in the closing seconds to again make it a one-possession game, but Wes Matthews then knocked down a 30-footer to send the Bucks into the break with a 58-52 lead.
Vucevic scored 13 of his 16 first-half points in the second quarter, where he hit 3 of 4 attempts from deep. The Magic overall hit 8 of 13 threes in the second, and shot 47.8 overall in the quarter. In the half, the Magic went 10-for-21 from three (47.6%) and assisted on 15 of 18 buckets.
The Bucks, though, nearly matched their three-point efficiency (10-for-24, 41.7%) and dominated the paint, where they outscored the Magic 24-8.
After a fast start by the Bucks in the third, Fournier powered a 12-2 Magic run that put the Magic in front. Fournier hit a corner three that pulled Orlando within one, and Markelle Fultz then knocked down an open three to make it 66-65 with 7:40 left in the third. Fultz scored eight in the quarter as the two teams mostly exchanged buckets over the remainder of the fourth.
Giannis hit a three with six seconds left to give the Bucks an 84-81 lead.
The Bucks opened the first 80 seconds of the fourth on an 8-2 run, highlighted by threes from Kyle Korver and Khris Middleton (who to that point had been 1 of 9 from the field) to give Milwaukee it’s largest lead to that point at 92-83. That got Middleton going and the Bucks’ lead grew from there.
Middleton scored 11 straight Milwaukee points during what grew to a 16-2 run, including a three plus the foul (missed FT) to open a 99-83 Bucks advantage. Another three by Middleton, who had 18 in the fourth, then lead pushed the lead to 19 with 8:12 left.
The Magic’s quick three-point barrage over a 51-second span (with makes by Fournier, Vucevic and Ross) cut the Orlando deficit to 104-92. Vooch, in another stellar performance, then scored the next 10 Orlando points, pulling the Magic within 109-102 with just over four minutes remaining.
Terrence Ross had a wide open three with a chance to cut the lead to four but was unable to convert. At the other end, the Magic returned the favor by giving Korver a wide open look from deep and he was able to convert, making it 112-102 with 3:29 to go, all but sealing the victory for the Bucks.
Antetokounmpo finished with 31 points, making 12 of 14 attempts in the paint, and also had 15 rebounds and eight assists. Middleton, after starting the game 1 for 9, converted six of his 10 attempts in the fourth to finish with 21 points.
Vucevic had his third 30-plus point game of the series. He hit 6 of 10 three-point attempts and went 11 of 20 overall to finish with 31 points, while also grabbing 11 rebounds and dishing out seven assists. Fultz, in his best game of the series, added 15 points, seven assists and five rebounds.
Ross added 19 points, but again struggled from deep, making just 1 of 8 attempts. Fournier played better overall despite his continued shooting woes, finishing with 12 points and eight rebounds while shooting 4 of 14 from the field (3-for-9 from three). Gary Clark (12 points) hit 4 of his 8 three-point attempts, as the Magic overall went 18-for-45 from deep (40%).
The Magic inability to protect the ball, committing 16 turnovers, and either limit Giannis and the Bucks in the paint, where they were outscored 42-20, or from long range, where the Bucks connected on 17 of 41 attempts, proved costly.
The Magic will look to stave off elimination in Game 5, which is set for Wednesday at 4 p.m.