On Friday night the Magic had a chance to avenge the season-opening smackdown that they suffered at the hands of the Spurs, this time from the comfort of their own homecourt. Unfortunately they remained winless on the season in Orlando, ultimately going down 102-89 in a clunky performance.
The Magic continued an early season trend by firing away from deep early and often, launching 8 attempts from deep in the game’s opening minutes. Unfortunately they weren’t very accurate, connecting just twice on their way to 30.8% field goal accuracy across the first quarter. Contributing to this wayward radar was that the team was also having difficulty finishing inside, a fact punctuated by Wendell Carter Jr.’s 1-10 contribution that involved three separate attempts at the rim that were cleanly rejected from behind. The margin blew out to 14 with the end of the quarter looming, before a couple of decisive drives by Jalen Suggs stemmed the early tide and sent the Magic to the huddle trailing 30-20.
Orlando were able to slow down San Antonio’s scoring to start the second, a combination of cold jump shooting by the opposition and some stronger individual challenges. Unfortunately the Magic weren’t able to make any inroads into the deficit during this stretch, as they continued to struggle at the rim against an energetic Spurs’ defense. In fact, outside of a WCJ flush (created by a beautiful wrap-around pass by a driving Terrence Ross) and a largely unopposed Franz Wagner dunk, the Magic shot just 2-11 from inside the key during the quarter’s opening nine minutes. At this point the game largely settled into a clunky back and forth affair, the half-time siren sounding with Orlando trailing 49-36.
All things considered, it was an ugly, ugly half of basketball. The Magic weren’t able to generate any real efficiency with the ball in hand, while defensive possessions frequently broke down far too easily against a less-than-stellar opposition. Orlando ultimately shot just 15-47 (31.9%) from the field across the first two periods, including a woeful 3-17 (17.6%) from deep. Mo Bamba paced the team with 9 points and 5 rebounds, but the thing that truly stood out on the boxscore was WCJ’s 2-12 shooting figures. By comparison the Spurs were 19-43 (44.2%) from the field, while also doubling up the Magic in terms of free throw attempts (10 to 5).
Orlando flashed some signs of life in the third, generating some clean looks out of classic two-man pick and roll action and probing drives. After a pair of threes to Anthony and Suggs the Magic closed the gap to single figures on the back of a seven-footer from Franz Wagner, the margin continuing to hover around that mark as the teams traded opportunities and baskets. A few times it looked like the bench unit was about to bobble away the momentum the team had established, but to the credit of these lineups they hung tough, finding points out of advantageous plays and muddying up the contest with some disruptive defense. When the quarter came to a close had sliced a bucket off the deficit, down 72-62 as the teams headed for the final frame.
The game continued to hang in the balance throughout the fourth quarter, with neither team able to commandingly claim the ascendancy. Back to back triples by Cole Anthony and RJ Hampton allowed the Magic to slice the lead to just 8, but the Spurs kept pace with a pair of soft floaters before a Bamba-Okeke miscommunication resulted in an emphatic Keldon Johnson slam against a scrambling transition defense. Time out Orlando.
Coming out of a timeout the Magic were able to split the Spurs’ full court press, a streaking Anthony throwing down a hammer to kickstart a potential comeback. Hampton strung together five quick points — a smooth triple from just above the break followed by a transition finish after forcing a turnover — but Dejounte Murray countered for San Antonio with two makes of his own. A second monster slam to Johnson pushed the Spurs back out to a 13 point lead, a difference the Magic would not threaten the rest of the way.
It was a tough night at the office for the Magic, who finished the game on the wrong side of the ledger in a number of key areas: shooting accuracy, free throw attempts, ball security, and glass cleaning. The final margin of 102-89 was ultimately reflective of the gulf between the two sides on the night.
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: Cole Anthony — not his best game but his play in the fourth quarter threatened to give the Magic a genuine chance down the stretch. Still finished with 21 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assists and a pair of steals despite a tough shooting night (8-18).
Second star: RJ Hampton — it hasn’t been a great season for the wiry guard to this point, but tonight his late play allowed the Magic to at least continue the fight into the final minutes. 11 points, 3 assists, 2 rebounds, 2 blocks and a steal speaks to his energy and effort. He also went 3-3 from deep.
Third star: Chuma Okeke — the boxscore numbers won’t jump out, but tonight Okeke looked more like the smooth rookie we remember from last season than at any other point since returning from injury. 8 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks and a steal on 4-7 shooting from the field, with an impressive coast to coast finish to boot.
The Magic fall to 2-8, next in action on Sunday night against the visiting Jazz.