No Cole, no JI, no Fultz, no problem, right? The answer for Orlando on this night was, unfortunately, no, with the defending champion Bucks accounting for the under-strength Magic after a furious fourth quarter rally by the visitors fell short.
Fouls were the story of the early game for Orlando, with Jalen Suggs and Wendell Carter Jr. both picking up a pair before the five minute mark. Unsurprisingly it was Giannis who was responsible for drawing almost all of them, with his power game at the hoop and energy on the offensive glass causing all sorts of trouble for Magic defenders.
Early three-pointers to Suggs, WCJ and Franz Wagner allowed Orlando to stay in touch, while a smooth hook shot to Mo Bamba in the post brought the team back within a basket at 16-14. Unfortunately that moment marked the start of a 13-0 run for the Bucks, a relentless assault on the painted area wreaking havoc on the Magic’s zone set up. Milwaukee ultimately shot 55.0% from the field for the quarter (11-20), including a tropical 60% from deep (6-10). 5 turnovers in the period punctuated Orlando’s struggles with the ball in hand, a 36-24 deficit at quarter-time the result.
The Magic started to get some shots to go in the second, with both WCJ and Mo Wagner finishing strong and-one sequences. Carter Jr. was also able to open up the team’s perimeter game somewhat, drilling a triple against Milwaukee’s drop coverage and then finding RJ Hampton for a three from the break on a drive-and-kick sequence against the collapsing defense. Chuma Okeke was also able to get loose during this stretch, hitting a three and a long-two for a personal five-point spurt.
However, Orlando had no answer for Milwaukee’s own long-range attack, with Khris Middleton hitting three of his own in the quarter’s first six minutes and Bobby Portis and Grayson Allen chipping in one apiece for good measure during the stretch. A made free throw on Giannis’ twelfth charity stripe attempt for the night pushed the Bucks’ advantage back to 15, which is where the margin continued to hover in the lead up to halftime. Hampton’s second three in the half cut the deficit to 10, before one more thunderous Giannis dunk put the Bucks back on top 62-50.
The Magic were led at the half by Suggs (10 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists) and Bamba (5 points, 5 rebounds, 2 blocks, 2 steals), although the team’s collective 40.0% shooting (18-45) highlighted the larger offensive woes. Paradoxically it was shooting from deep that was largely responsible for having kept them in the game to this point (9-19), with the team’s 9 turnovers and 12 fouls conspiring to make the already difficult assignment a near impossible one. For the Bucks, it was Giannis with 15 points, 13 rebounds, 4 assists and an absurd 12 free throw attempts that was powering Milwaukee’s game. As a team they also shot 12-22 on attempts from deep, the result of a devastating driving game that collapsed the Magic defense and opened up opportunities on the perimeter that they repeatedly cashed in.
The Bucks wasted no time in the third in stamping their absolute authority on the contest. After a couple of scoreless minutes of basketball to open the period they ripped off a 13-0 run, with Giannis continuing to feast in the paint while his teammates scorched the nets from downtown. Suggs and Okeke tried hard to keep the Magic within shouting distance, but stagnant possessions and errant shots were all too commonplace when Orlando had the ball in hand. Even after Milwaukee cooled off to some degree the Magic couldn’t claw themselves back into it, the deficit at one point ballooning to 29 before Head Coach Jamahl Mosley emptied the bench. It was ultimately 25 when the three-quarter siren sounded, the Bucks with a commanding 96-71 lead.
The fourth quarter looked like it would be a largely perfunctory affair, although the Magic were able to make a couple of runs that injected some genuine doubt back into the proceedings. They scored 7 straight early to get within 21, benefiting from three-and-a-half minutes of fruitless Bucks’ possessions. Later the all-bench unit was able to get some three-point attempts to go, with Mychal Mulder’s third make from distance cutting it to 16 with 4:28 to play. Giannis checked back in with the intent of closing the door once and for all, but another triple — this one to Hampton for his third of the night after a huge offensive board by Robin Lopez — sliced the deficit to 13. Suddenly and unexpectedly things were interesting.
Holy offensive rebound, Batman! pic.twitter.com/skh8hz4Uqh— Evan Dunlap (@BQRMagic) November 21, 2021
Milwaukee went back to their starters while the Magic stuck with the crew that got them back into it, a seeming mismatch that could end only one way. However, Orlando simply wouldn’t go away, stringing together a series of stops and getting clutch buckets from Mulder and Hampton that reduced the margin to 6. A pair of Lopez free throws got it to just 5 with 17.4 seconds left on the clock, however they ultimately ran out of time, the Bucks leaning on Giannis down the stretch to seal the victory once and for all. The spirited comeback attempt fell just short, the Magic going down 117-108 in the first of two contests against the reigning champs.
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: RJ Hampton — you need to disregard his first half (which was objectively bad), but Hampton was the key to Orlando’s fourth quarter run. He made shots, created plays for his teammates, and used his athleticism to fuel disruptive defense. He finished with 19 points, 9 assists, 5 rebounds and 5 makes from deep.
Second star: Mychal Mulder — his long-range shooting helped to flip the script in the final period. He racked up 13 points in 16 minutes, and staked a genuine claim to more court time moving forward.
Third star: Chuma Okeke — looked great in a couple of stretches, with some smooth finishing helping him put up 13 points on 6-11 shooting. It’s clear he’s not yet back to his best, but there are glimpses that suggest he’s certainly on his way.
The Magic really had no right getting back into the contest in the manner they did, a credit to the strong effort by the bench squad. They’ll look to build on the moral victory in a return match-up against the Bucks on Monday.