The second night of a road back-to-back set always promised to be a difficult proposition for the youthful Magic, even against a team entering the contest without a win yet to their name. For the Pistons, this home court showdown against an exhausted opposition playing their fifth game in seven nights represented a chance to open their season’s account, particularly with the number one overall pick, Cade Cunningham, in uniform for the first time. Despite a barnstorming run in the third quarter this is precisely what would unfold, the Magic running out of steam down the stretch as they lost their fourth straight.
The Magic got off to a fast start, quickly doubling up the Pistons courtesy of some features that have been constants for the starting unit of late: competitive defense, sweet two-man action featuring Wendell Carter Jr. and Mo Bamba, and opportunistic threes from Franz Wagner and WCJ. Orlando extended their early advantage to as many as six before Detroit were able to start grinding away at some advantages that had emerged. They punished the Magic on the offensive glass, extending possessions and converting a handful of long range attempts they should never have been gifted. This would serve as a worrying omen of things to come.
The undeniably brightest spot of the opening term was the return to play of Chuma Okeke. The second year forward made an immediate impact for the Magic, attacking out of a post up on one possession before flashing his ball handling and knifing into the lane for his first bucket of the season on the next trip down the court. There was some rustiness evident, but the high level effort and intelligence we’ve come to expect was also clearly there, most notably when he forced a turnover on an inbounds pass to win back possession for Orlando. His play, combined with some decisive finishing from Franz Wagner, allowed the Magic to keep pace with the Pistons, going into quarter-time down just 25-20.
The second quarter was a clunky affair, with both teams struggling to convert from the field. The Magic opened up the period just 1-6, while Detroit weren’t much better at 2-8. Instead, errant passes, stymieing blocks, shot clock violations, and a parade of shooting fouls turned the game into a grind. The defensive glass remained a huge problem, with the Pistons helping themselves to a monstrous 15 offensive rebounds in the first half and racking up a healthy total of easy second chance points. Things threatened to get away from the Magic, blowing out to as many as 10 at one point, but some big threes by Bamba and Cole Anthony helped Orlando keep in touch, as did the Pistons 11 turnovers in the half. When the dust settled on an ugly quarter the deficit was somehow just a single point, the Magic trailing 48-47.
For Orlando, 37.0% shooting from the field told much of their story. All ten players who had taken the floor found themselves on the scoresheet, but it was Franz Wagner’s 9 points that paced the side. Elsewhere Anthony had compiled 7 points, 4 rebounds and 2 assists, while Carter Jr. had 8 points to go along with 3 rebounds, an assist and a block. Jerami Grant was responsible for much of Detroit’s damage, racking up 13 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists, despite being held without a make from deep. Isaiah Stewart was the primary monster on the boards, with 9 points to go along with his 9 rebounds, 4 of which were the offensive variety. If it weren’t for their 34.8% field goal accuracy and 11 turnovers as a team, the Pistons likely would have enjoyed a more significant advantage at this juncture.
The Magic were able to turn things around in the opening minutes of the third, riding a wave of momentum generated by their two rookies. Both Suggs and Franz Wagner were able to impose themselves at the defensive end of the court, actively challenging and disrupting plays that gave the team a chance to counterpunch in transition. Suggs took full advantage, cruising to a pair of fastbreak layups himself and then finding his fellow lottery selection camped on the arc when the possessions settled into the halfcourt. When Mo Wagner also showed up to the three-point party, the Magic had turned what was a five point deficit into a seven point advantage.
Unfortunately, the Magic went completely cold at this point. The team went more than five minutes without a made field goal, a Moe Wagner triple with seconds remaining in the quarter eventually breaking the drought. When combined with some poor defense and errant communication by the second unit, it allowed the Pistons to build a 25-6 run that gave them a double-digit advantage. Orlando reduced it to nine at the final break, but 82-73 was looking like a significant margin considering Detroit’s improved outside shooting and the ease with which they were now getting to the rim.
Things didn’t get any better for the Magic once the fourth was underway. They opened the quarter with three straight turnovers, ceding easy buckets to a Detroit side that now found themselves up 15 and firmly in control of the contest. Consecutive triples to Bamba and Iggy Brazdeikis — inserted into the lineup as the exhausted Magic searched desperately for a spark — briefly cut the difference to single digits, but the Pistons steadied and ensured any comeback would be an incredibly steep hill for Orlando to climb.
It was ultimately too much to ask of a Magic team clearly playing on fumes at this point, with the bench emptying in the final four minutes as the coaching staff waved the white flag. This allowed Mychal Mulder to squeeze in his pinstriped debut, drilling a heavily contested corner three to remind the team of what he could potentially offer. Some junk basketball in the closing minutes ultimately allowed Orlando to reduce the margin to single digits, but this was only achieved once the sting well and truly came out of the contest. When all was said and done it was 110-103, the Magic serving as Detroit’s first victim of the season.
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: Franz Wagner — 19 smooth points for the rookie forward as he continued his habit of pairing a sweet outside stroke with some nasty juice off the dribble. His third quarter play was a huge spark for the Magic, with some excellent defensive flashes also evident in his game.
The winner of the Cade Cunningham vs. Jalen Suggs showdown is Franz Wagner.— John Hollinger (@johnhollinger) October 31, 2021
Second star: Jalen Suggs — yes, the shooting was again an eye sore. But Suggs was frequently impactful despite the wayward radar, finishing with 10 points thanks to his relentless attack of the basket, as well as 6 assists, 5 rebounds, 2 steals and a block. He also got the better of Cunningham on a couple of sequences in the battle of top-billed rookies.
Third star: the Wagner & Wagner experience — in what was a pretty grueling game to watch, the high point undoubtedly came during the couple of minutes that the Wagner Bros. combined to scorch the nets. In a bad loss this was some brief-but-good content.
The Magic fall to 1-6 on the season, with a road matchup against the Timberwolves awaiting them on Monday. Let’s see if they can turn it around.