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Nets 115, Magic 113: A vintage James Harden performance sinks the Magic

Despite Suggs’ fast start the Magic couldn’t find enough offense to keep the Nets from completing a comeback

Orlando Magic v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Riding high after a victory over the Knicks at Madison Square Garden, the Magic looked to continue their New York winning ways in a Friday night matchup against the Nets. When KD was announced as being out with a shoulder complaint it raised the hopes of the pinstriped faithful for another upset but it ultimately wasn’t to be, Brooklyn grinding down the Magic late to win a 115-113 decision.

Orlando got off to a fast start behind the sweet shooting of Jalen Suggs, who buried a pair of deep triples and then got to the line on a transition opportunity in scoring the side’s first 7 points. Some energetic play on defense — including a sweet swat by Mo Bamba that fueled a Cole Anthony layup on the break — helped to sustain the momentum and push Orlando out to an early nine-point advantage.

A four-point play to James Harden threatened to wrest the contest back in the direction of the Nets, but the Magic were able to counter with some Anthony-Bamba pick and roll action. When Terrence Ross and Chuma Okeke both also decided to get in on the action — Ross draining a pair of threes in the quarter and Okeke finding the bottom of the net on a sweet turnaround from the low block — the Magic had at one point doubled up their more fancied opponents. Suggs had one more avalanche in him before the break, knocking down two more long-range attempts on his way to 17 first quarter points. When the teams went to the break it was Orlando firmly in control, up 41-25 over their heavily-fancied opponents.

Things bogged down a little for the Magic in the opening minutes of the second, Brooklyn jumping things up with a zone and Orlando struggling to get into the teeth and create clean looks. Both Harden and Patty Mills found some scoring touch for the Nets, and when they sliced the lead to 10 it looked like a larger run might be in the offing.

The Magic, however, were able to steady, with Franz Wagner making a series of pretty plays to keep the scoreboard ticking over. He got a pair of buckets by attacking the hoop with intent, while also flashing some intriguing playmaking chops with a couple of sweet passes that found teammates in advantageous spots. Anthony, Gary Harris and RJ Hampton all chipped in three-point makes, allowing the team to largely withstand some classic foul-drawing wizardry by Harden. Despite seven empty possessions in a row to end the quarter the Magic were still able to take a nine-point advantage into the main break, up 62-53.

Orlando were led at the half by Suggs’ 17 points, which he was unable to add to in the second quarter as the team went away from the hot hand. Elsewhere it was Bamba with 10 points, 4 rebounds and 2 blocks, Anthony with 7 points and 6 assists, and Wagner with 7 points and 4 assists. The team collectively shot 55.0% from the floor for the half, including 9-18 from deep and 9-12 from the free throw line. The Nets, by comparison, were paced by Harden’s 18 points and 4 assists, a perfect 10-10 from the stripe offsetting his 4-12 shooting from the field. Brooklyn were also active on the offensive glass, with 6 extended possessions (compared to Orlando’s 2) giving them more shots from the floor than the Magic and helping to keep them in the contest.

Unfortunately the game script flipped in the third, with Orlando falling into the trap of settling for isolation sequences and failing to move the ball like they did early. Harden continued to cook for the Nets, getting points from all over — the perimeter, the free-throw line, the mid-range and at the hoop. When Patty Mills chimed in with enormous back-to-back triples the comeback was complete, a 30-8 run that spanned the end of the first half and start of the second. It sent the Magic scuttling to a time out, once up 19 but now down 73-70.

Wagner and Okeke both contributed small spurts to Orlando’s offense coming out of the huddle, but there were still too many possessions that featured little in way of pre-planned sets. On defense the Magic were struggling to contain Harden, who continued to draw whistles at an alarming rate. His scoring and passing accounted for 12 of Brooklyn’s final 17 in the quarter, staking them to a 90-83 lead entering the final frame.

Okeke helped get the Magic off to a solid start in the fourth, turning defense into offense with a strip and dip before drilling a big three to lock the scores up. Ross was able to push Orlando back in front with a huge triple of his own, while Anthony did the same on a smooth mid-range pull-up after Mills got one back for the Nets.

The back-and-forth nature of the contest continued down the stretch, with the teams trading chances and buckets. Any offensive fluency seemed to dry up at this point for both sides, with missed shots, turnovers and offensive fouls punctuating the action. The Magic tied it back up with a three-pointer to Franz after Bamba chased down an offensive board, only to watch Harden get back to the line and re-establish the Nets’ slim advantage. Ross then did Ross things by drawing a foul on a long-range attempt, hitting all three freebies to slice the margin to a single point with two minutes to play.

With the score 108-107 in Brooklyn’s favor Harden and Anthony took turns alternating missed threes, before LaMarcus Aldridge got a deep post move to go with 56.5 left on the clock. Anthony countered by slicing through the lane and making a very tough layup on the next possession, before the Nets went back again to the Aldridge well to reclaim a three-point lead with just 17.0 seconds remaining. Ross split a pair of free throws after a take foul put him on the line with 11.0 to play, before Harden got his seventeenth and eighteenth attempts from the charity stripe to go after he was immediately fouled on the ensuing inbound. The margin was now out to two possessions.

A quick Suggs’ bucket out of an inbounds play from side court gave the Magic one final chance, a possibility accentuated when Harden missed his first free-throw of the night. However, the Nets smartly took the variance out of the game, fouling Orlando to put them on the line and denying them an opportunity for a game-tying three. Anthony whiffed on a deliberate miss on his second attempt from the line, allowing the Nets to ice the contest with a game of keep away at the end.

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: Jalen Suggs — he was otherworldly across the game’s opening 12 minutes, and although he cooled off after that he did still finish with 21 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals and a block. He’s a rookie learning a tough position for a struggling team, but his first quarter was a pertinent reminder of the potential the young guard possesses.

Second star: Franz Wagner — 17 points and 5 assists for the rookie wing, who almost certainly led the team in ‘smart plays that don’t show up in the box score’ across the night. Have to also love his aggression, as he sliced through the lane with purpose in racking up 6 free throw attempts.

Third star: Chuma Okeke — it’s been a sluggish return from injury for the second-year forward, but tonight he showed some strong signs of having shaken off much of the rust. His scoring burst in the fourth quarter, some of which was fueled by disruptive defense at the other end, was ultimately responsible for helping keep the Magic in it right up until the end.

It was undoubtedly a tough loss for the Magic after leading by so many early in proceedings. They’ll look to bounce back on the road tomorrow on the first of a pair of dates with the defending champion Bucks.