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Knicks 121, Magic 96: A familiar face helps sinks the Magic in their home opener

Fournier’s hot first half helps doom the Magic, now 0-2 after two drubbings

NBA: New York Knicks at Orlando Magic Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Orlando came into their home opener looking to take a positive step forward after a brutal first outing against the Spurs. Standing in their way? The familiar face of Evan Fournier, now a Knick and fresh off a Big Apple debut that suggested he would be a handful for the young and undermanned Magic. Indeed, that was how things played out, with the sweet-shooting Frenchman staking New York to an early lead that they would never relinquish.

The game’s opening minutes were competitive, with the Magic knocking down outside shots and drives to the hoop alike as they kept pace with the Knicks. Mo Bamba’s play again stood out, the big man confidently drilling a pair of triples and facilitating some effective high-low play with Wendell Carter Jr. Franz Wagner’s surprisingly aggressive play continued, while Suggs looked more dynamic than he did in his debut, knifing into the paint for a floater and a layup on back-to-back possessions while also playing noticeably active defense at the other end. After 5:35 of game time the teams went to a timeout, the Magic within a bucket at 16-13 and looking lively.

Unfortunately, that’s when the good times ground to a halt. As the bench players rotated in, all semblance of a cohesive gameplan seemingly went out the window. The offense devolved into a rash of quick-trigger jumpers, sloppy passes, and general stagnation. The defense was equally poor, with little in the way of transition resistance, and the team’s drop scheme gifting New York shooters all the time and space they needed from behind the arc. The Knicks ultimately ripped off a 21-3 run over the quarter’s final six minutes, building a massive 20 point advantage as the Magic sought refuge in the quarter time break.

Things didn’t really improve in the second quarter. At a couple of points Orlando found themselves doubled up on the scoreboard, although they were eventually able to get enough buckets to keep the margin to just 30 — distressingly, it could have been much worse! Fournier was the primary culprit, the diversity of his offensive game on display as he piled up 15 first half points on a collection of triples and incisive drives. 51.1% shooting as a team to go along with 11 makes from long distance speaks to the ease with which the Knicks kept the scoreboard ticking over.

For the Magic, it was a cavalcade of familiar factors that contributed to the first-half beatdown: poor shooting (13 of 41, 31.7%); the lack of dependable outside threats (7 of 20, 35.0%); sloppy ball security and decision making (10 turnovers compared to 9 assists); and an anemic free-throw rate (only 3 attempts total). Teams don’t win games posting numbers such as these.

The game started to swing in the third quarter, with the Magic riding increased intensity and effort at the defensive end — active hands, stronger closeouts on shooters, quicker rotations — to a fast second-half start. Suggs was purposeful in attacking the rim, driving into the paint and either finding a finish or drawing contact to get to the line. This play also helped to generate a little more daylight for outside shooters, with the team knocking down four of their first seven attempts from behind the arc. The Knicks, by comparison, started the quarter 0-7 from deep, allowing the Magic to ultimately pile up a 19-2 run that cut the deficit to 17.

A Cole Anthony triple shortly after brought the Magic within 16, but that was as close as they would get. The Knicks steadied the ship by getting some jumpshots to fall, the first of which was delivered by, of course, the returning Fournier. Orlando’s bench units continued to demonstrate some worrying tendencies, and the quarter ultimately closed with the Magic down 22. The final frame played out as expected with a little less intensity opening up scoring opportunities for both teams, the result eventually settling at 121-96 in New York’s favor.

The story of the game ultimately came down to the shooting numbers, with the Magic’s inattentive defensive first half dooming the side. They allowed the Knicks to shoot 50.0% from the field on the dot, including a scintillating 24-54 from downtown (44.4%). In fact, the three ball accounted for 61.4% of New York’s total shot diet and almost 60% of their final points tally. By comparison Orlando made just 39.8% of their attempts from the floor, with poor finishing closer to the hoop offsetting the team’s own solid outside shooting clip (17-43, 39.5%). In a league defined more by offense than ever before, the Magic simply couldn’t match the opposition.

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: Mo Bamba — Big Mo looked good again, racking up 15 points, 10 rebounds and 2 blocks in 34 minutes of game time. 6 of 9 from the field, including 3 of 5 from deep, and just 1 turnover speaks to his relative efficiency for a team that was outclassed almost all night.

Second star: Franz Wagner — 16 and 4 for the team’s more unheralded rookie, with a level of aggression and purpose to his offensive game that bodes well for the role he could eventually grow into. The shooting stroke also looked great — 4 of 5 on long range attempts, with little hesitation when given the space to pull the trigger.

Third star: Jalen Suggs — ignore the shooting numbers (4-17) and you’ve got a decent compilation of contributions from the rookie guard: 14 points, 8 assists, 7 rebounds and 2 steals, as well as 6 drawn free throw attempts and some spry defense against a solid Knicks backcourt. There’s still a long way to go, but this was a much more promising outing.

The Magic get a chance at revenge in their very next outing, with a return date against the Knicks on the schedule for Sunday. See you then!