After the Magic’s Game 4 loss, Steve Clifford described his team’s effort.
“It was not good,” he said, “it was phenomenal.”
And it was, with the Magic putting themselves in position to win heading into the fourth quarter. But as Clifford later added, “this is a make or miss league.” When the fourth quarter began, the Bucks made, the Magic missed.
That leads us to our first takeaway....
Middleton goes off
Watching Khris Middleton struggle with his shot over the first three games of the series, there was this sense of doom for Orlando that he was a ticking time bomb.
The bomb went off at the worst possible time for the Magic: the fourth quarter of Game 4.
After starting the game 1-for-9 and being held to three points through the first three quarters, Middleton scored 18 points in the fourth, more than he had scored in any game this series. He went 6 of 10 from the field in the quarter, powering the Bucks to a 21-2 run that carried over from the third and into the fourth.
Khris was huge down the stretch.— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) August 24, 2020
21 PTS | 57.1% 3PT | 10 REB | 3 AST pic.twitter.com/y5Dmrv5x0p
Middleton, a 49.7% shooter during the regular season, entered Game 4 shooting just 32.4% in the series. He was missing good looks, shooting 41.2% on open spots (defender four to six feet away), and 33.3% on wide open shots (defender six or more feet away).
For elite shooters, those slumps don’t last long.
“Giannis told me to just shoot, don’t worry about anything else,” MIddleton said after the game.
He did, and it worked. The Bucks s a team shot 40 percent from deep, making 17 of 41 attempts, and Giannis hit 12 of 14 shots in the paint. Easier said than done to take away one of those elements, but when the Magic are unable to do so, they stand little chance of keeping things close.
But they managed to do so for most of the game thanks to...
Put some respect on Vooch’s name
Not many members of the Orlando Magic have scored 30-plus points in three games of a playoff series. Off the top of my head, I recall Penny in 1997, T-Mac every series, and Shaq must have done so at some point in 1995 or 1996. But it’s a short list.
It added a new member on Monday.
Vucevic’s extraordinary playoff series continued as he posted a near triple-double with 31 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists. He tied a career-high with six made three-pointers and set a new high with 10 attempts. At one stretch in the fourth, he scored 12 of 14 Magic points to get Orlando back in the game after the Bucks pulled away.
“They’re keying on him on every catch and we are going to him constantly because he puts so much pressure on anybody’s defense,” Clifford said after the game. “The fact that he can score inside, he can drive the ball and make plays off the dribble, and then he can play out in space. He’s a very gifted offensive player with great IQ and decision-making.”
@NikolaVucevic | #MagicPlayoffs pic.twitter.com/sn3xhRr6CM— Orlando Magic (@OrlandoMagic) August 24, 2020
That has showed this series, with Vooch now averaging 29.5 points and 10 rebounds per game while shooting 54.7% from the field, including 44.1 % from three (15 of 34).
“Last year in the playoffs he wasn’t as good and he was hungry to prove that he was better than that,” Clifford said. “And obviously, he’s played four terrific games.”
Fultz bounces back
Perhaps the top focal point for the Magic organization this series is the play of Markelle Fultz as he gets what are essentially the first meaningful playoff minutes of his career (not counting those 23 minutes with Philly).
In Game 3, Fultz simply did not play well. He had five points (shooting 2-for-9 from the field) and five assists (committing five turnovers). So, there was a curiosity as to how he would rebound.
“Great bounce back,” Clifford said after Game 4.
Fultz had 15 points, seven assists and five rebounds. He again struggled overall from the field, going 6-for-15, but was aggressive in getting into the paint and also connected on 2 of 4 three-point attempts.
@MarkelleF | #MagicPlayoffs pic.twitter.com/TIQbBpeytG— Orlando Magic (@OrlandoMagic) August 24, 2020
“He was terrific in all facets of the game,” Clifford said.
Fultz is averaging 11.5 points and 5.3 assists this series, hitting at least one three in each game of the first four games.
Meanwhile, out in Philadelphia....