With a Los Angeles back-to-back set closing out the team’s current road trip, the Magic entered the first stage, an afternoon showdown against the Clippers, hoping to steal a win against a team missing both of their superstars. For much of the contest it looked a real possibility, a cruel make-or-miss sequence ultimately deciding the game in the final seconds as they went down 106-104 to their more fancied opponents.
The Magic made a fast start to the contest, hitting 6 of their first 10 shots (including 3 of 5 from deep) to open up an early 15-8 lead. Cole Anthony’s radar was seemingly locked in with a pair of triples (including one off a beautiful setup by Franz Wagner as the ball handler), while Mo Bamba also had 5 fast points in the early going. Despite the baskets it wasn’t an entirely seamless opening sequence, with four different airballs juxtaposed against the made field goals.
At the other end it was Luke Kennard and Terrence Mann doing damage for the Clippers, with the pair combining for 13 of LA’s first 18 points. They kept the scoreboard ticking over with a mix of moves, including long-range bombs, mid-range finishers and lane forays that drew fouls. Fortunately for Orlando few other Clippers were able to find the bottom of the net in the first quarter, a nasty step-back three from Franz and a long bomb from the point by Terrence Ross allowing the Magic to maintain their early cushion. They went to the first break up 30-23, with 52.4% shooting (6-12 from deep) and just a single turnover fueling the run.
The long ball continued to define the contest across the opening minutes of the second. Orlando missed a pair despite some reasonable ball movement, while at the other end the Clippers got looks from both Reggie Jackson and Eric Bledsoe to fall. These makes sliced the margin to just a single point, and a few more fruitless possessions by the Magic eventually allowed LA to lock the score up at 31 apiece after capitalizing on a Wendell Carter Jr. turnover. They were then able to grab their first lead since the 10:09 mark of the first on a driving floater by Jackson. The tenor of the game was seemingly shifting.
What had worked so well for the Magic in the game’s early going was seemingly harder to come by as the teams moved towards halftime. More frequent turnovers put additional pressure on their transition defense, while the collective accuracy of the side’s jumpshots went missing for long stretches. The sloppy execution ultimately culminated in 5 turnovers and 1-10 shooting from deep for the period, a stark contrast to the game’s first twelve minutes. As a result the Clippers were able to outscore the Magic by a dozen in the period, opening up a 49-44 advantage at the main break.
For Orlando it was the veteran pair of Gary Harris and Ross atop the boxscore, with 9 points apiece and some timely long-range makes by the duo helping to keep the team in touch. Anthony had 8 points but was just 3-9 from the field with 2 turnovers and only 1 assist, while Carter Jr. compiled an awkward looking tally of 10 rebounds, 3 assists, a steal and zero points (0-2 shooting). After a hot start the team’s collective accuracy was down to 37.5% (15-40), an 8 attempts to 4 advantage at the free-throw line helping to mask what could have been a larger deficit.
The game see-sawed across the opening minutes of the second half, with both teams looking to establish the momentum that would turn the contest in their favor. The Clippers made their first three jumpers of the period to briefly establish an 8 point advantage, the Magic hanging tight with makes of their own to Anthony and Harris. From there it turned into the ‘WCJ and Franz’ show, with the pair combining on a series of possessions to power a 18-6 run that pushed the Magic back in front. It was a stretch that showcased the evolving playmaking game of Carter Jr., with the big man being asked to facilitate from the high post and doing so admirably. He had 7 assists by the end of the period, a career-high that helped the Magic temporarily regain a five point lead.
Unfortunately a late LA flurry from beyond the arc swung the game flow back their way. Multiple long range makes by Mann and Bledsoe erased the cushion the Magic had built, part of a 15-4 spurt that saw them out by 6 before Orlando nabbed the last bucket of the quarter. With twelve minutes to play the Clippers led 77-75, a single basket separating the teams.
The Magic’s zone gave up another wide open three to Kennard on the quarter’s opening possession, which he followed up with an extremely difficult triple on the move from almost the same spot on the floor next time down. Another missed rotation almost ceded one to Brandon Boston Jr., but his miss without a defender in sight allowed Orlando to head down the other end and find a Ross three-point play that kept the margin manageable. The veteran wing was doing everything he could to keep his side in it, with aggressive drives creating looks at the hoop, trips to the charity stripe (10-10 for Ross on the night!), and even put back opportunities for his teammates.
Terrence Ross puts Orlando on his back in the fourth— Beyond the RK (@beyondtheRK) December 11, 2021
tough FLOATA in P&R for the AND1
10/10 at the pinstripe this game pic.twitter.com/TtVrfjVE6s
The teams traded both opportunities and the lead throughout the closing stretch. An RJ Hampton drive that locked things up. A Justise Winslow corner three that snatched it back for the Clippers. An incredibly tough layup by Wagner. A soft finish by Bledsoe. A pair of free throws to Anthony. A Jackson triple. An Anthony drive. Jackson again, this time on a stepback. Six lead changes during this sequence spoke to the see-sawing nature of the affair.
When Reggie Jackson finished a driving layup, his seventh straight point for LA, it was the Clippers by 4, up 100-96. Anthony would trim this to just two on a pair of free throws, but a Jackson drive that drew multiple Magic defenders ultimately resulted in a kick out to the wide-open Kennard, who wasted no time in drilling his seventh three-pointer of the game to push the deficit to five with under a minute remaining.
Ross kept the Magic in it with a patented foul drawn on a three-point attempt, temporarily negating the impact of the previous defensive possession. Ivica Zubac earned the first Clippers free throws since the first period, splitting a pair to make the game a single possession equation. Orlando went straight to their money play, dialing up a WCJ screen to get Anthony a favorable switch, which he duly cashed in by torturing Zubac and drilling a huge three over the big man’s outstretched hands. Tie game.
The Clippers would have a shot at icing things, with the shot clock off and the ball in Jackson’s possession in the half court. As he had been doing all game the guard probed for space, eventually settling into a mid-range jumper after a pick drew him a little daylight. He found the bottom of the net with 2.2 remaining on the clock, giving the Magic one last chance to either knot the scores again or win it at the buzzer. Unfortunately Ross’ leaning jumper was off, sealing a tough road loss for the Magic as they went down 106-104 on the first game of a Californian back-to-back.
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: Terrence Ross — this game was absolutely slipping away from the Magic before the veteran wing got things going again. His aggressive third quarter play dragged the team back into the contest as he finished with 22 points fueled by a perfect 13-13 from the line. A game-winner would have been the perfect finish, but alas.
Second star: Franz Wagner — it’s difficult to believe that this guy is a rookie. Was dynamite scoring the ball all night long, with 20 points on a hyper-efficient 8-10 shooting (including 2-2 from deep). His poise and playmaking was also evident, particularly in moments when Anthony sat. He’s already an utterly indispensable cog for this team.
Third star: Wendell Carter Jr. — look past the scoring totals and you’ll see a player that worked the glass (14 rebounds), served as a playmaking hub (7 assists), played stout defense, and set jarring screens that gave his teammates space to work. He was very good despite the lack of baskets.
The current road trip blessedly comes to an end tomorrow evening with a date against LeBron and the Lakers. Let’s see if the Magic can establish some momentum by closing with a win over the King.