It what turned out to be an exciting and highly entertaining contest, one of the rising teams in the NBA - the Charlotte Hornets - picked up their fourth win over the first five games of their 2021-22 season, defeating the Orlando Magic 120-111 Wednesday night at the Amway Center,
Orlando, who returned home after a brief two-game road trip, led the contest at the start of the fourth quarter before getting outscored 29-18 in the game’s final period.
“You have to go through these experiences to understand what to do the next time (down),” Magic head coach Jamahl Mosley told reporters after the game. “They’re learning, we talked about it. They understand the things that need to take place in order for us to get over that hump.”
Eight critical fourth quarter turnovers led to Orlando’s late demise, despite shooting 15 for 39 (38.5% percent) from beyond the arc in the game.
Hornets forward Miles Bridges led all scorers with 31 points (11-21 FGA’s, 5-10 3PTA’s). Veteran forward Gordon Hayward added 24 points (9 -13 FGA’s), including three late field goals that helped Charlotte secure the road win.
The Magic began the game playing with incredible energy. Mosley mentioned before the game the need for his team to play with more pace - not just creating additional possessions, but with more purpose in the way they cut, close-out, run the floor, etc. And that’s exactly what we saw at the start of play Wednesday.
Orlando ran out to a 20-8 lead midway through the first quarter, knocking-down 8 of their first 13 field goal attempts.
The Hornets were forced to call an early timeout in an effort to slow the Magic down. Orlando’s early energy was exemplified by a hustle play from Mo Bamba. After getting the ball stripped away in the paint amid heavy traffic, Orlando’s starting center hit the floor and knocked the ball away from a Charlotte player, which ultimately led to a Franz Wagner three-point field goal from the left-wing.
As has been the case for most of this year, things went south quickly for the Magic once they broke their opening lineup. The Charlotte bench instantly erased their early deficit, mainly behind strong play from reserve guard Ish Smith (six first quarter points), who was consistently beating Magic defenders off the dribble.
While most of Orlando’s second unit was slow out of the gate, veteran guard Terrence Ross had his torch lit early. The Magic sixth-man scored 10 of his 18 points in the game’s opening period, including 2 of 3 three-point field goals in the quarter.
The three-point field goal was falling furiously for both teams in the first half as they combined for sixteen makes from beyond the arc, led by Wagner and Ross (Orlando: 10-22, Charlotte: 6-13).
The Magic were able to limit LaMelo Ball’s effectiveness early, getting the second-year guard into foul trouble. Ball only played ten minutes in the first half. Bridges also committed two early fouls, but came back with a monster second quarter (10 of his 31 points in the period).
The game swung back-and-forth during a high-scoring third quarter that saw the lead change hands multiple times, with the Magic enjoying a slim 93-91 advantage heading into the game’s final twelve minutes.
Ball hit a contested step-back three-point field goal off the dribble from the top of the key to give the Hornets a four-point lead with just under eight minutes remaining, one of his very few ‘dazzling’ moments in the game (3-14 FGA’s, 7 points in 24 minutes).
“I think we did a good job on him (Ball), I think we were highly focused on what he’s capable of doing, ” Mosley said of his team after the game. “ We took on the challenge, knowing how talented he is, but (obviously) the other guys got going quite a bit. For LaMelo, our guys did a good job with verticality, not allowing him to finish on some of those shots in the paint. That challenge was taken on by our guys. But again, we’ve got to continue to do that for the full forty-eight (minutes).”
The Hornets extended their lead four minutes later following consecutive Mason Plumlee paint conversions.
It was a lead Charlotte would not relinquish. For the Magic, it was too many late turnovers, and not enough late stops defensively.
“I feel like as a team, we didn’t handle their runs that well,” Wendell Carter Jr. told reports after the game Wednesday. “We tried too many quick hitters (late). After they made two or three shots in a row, we can’t just come down and take the first shot, that kind of fuels their run. Once they go on their run, the best thing to do is stop it as soon as possible. We turned the ball over way too many times, including myself. Effort plays, a lot of the effort plays we didn’t do tonight.”
Cole Anthony led the way for the Magic with 24 points, 5 rebounds, and 6 assists. Orlando’s twin towers - Carter Jr. (20 points, 10 rebounds) and Bamba (14 points, 10 rebounds) - each recorded double-doubles. Wagner finished with 15 points on 5 of 7 shooting (3-4 3PTA’s).
“The best way to learn how to play in close fourth quarter games is to be in close fourth quarter games,” Anthony said after the game. “I’m happy we were in a position to have a chance to win that game. It’s something we’ve got to learn from.”
The Magic will have that next chance to learn from Wednesday night’s game as soon as this Friday when they travel to Toronto to take on the Raptors. Orlando will play three games on the road before returning to City Beautiful on November 3rd.