In a game defined more by those sidelined than those on the court, the
Lakeland Orlando Magic were ultimately able to get the deep roster contributions they needed in a disjointed affair. They held on after building a big lead, claiming their first consecutive victories of the season in beating the Hawks 104-98.
The first quarter was predictably tight, the result of two disconnected and discombobulated rosters ravaged by injury and illness. Both teams’ defensive structures were porous in the early going, although some plodding offensive sets and inaccurate shooting meant that the scoreboard moved relatively glacially.
Franz Wagner was the linchpin for the Magic during this stretch, either scoring or assisting on 10 of Orlando’s first 12 points, finishing with a personal haul of 9 in the period. His driving layup at the 8:04 mark gave the Magic a one-point lead, but unfortunately the team went cold from the floor at this point, making just one field goal the rest of the way and committing 5 turnovers. Thankfully Atlanta were just as sluggish, the period closing with Orlando in front 22-20.
It was a deep bench squad that opened the second for the Magic, with Chuma Okeke being flanked by a number of players recently called up from the team’s Lakeland affiliate. The on-court familiarity paid immediate dividends, Orlando ripping off a 12-5 run across the first 3:15 of the period. Freddie Gillespie was a two-way menace, BJ Johnson provided a little shooting rhythm, and Hassani Gravett capped the burst with a beautiful alley-oop in transition for the streaking Aleem Ford. It forced an Atlanta timeout, the Magic having opened up their biggest lead of the night up 34-25.
Orlando were able to maintain this advantage as the quarter rolled on, getting contributions up and down the roster to keep the scoreboard ticking over. An Okeke floater. A Gravett mid-ranger. Franz with a finish in the lane. A classic paint move by Robin Lopez. Some free throws for Gary Harris. The Magic found a counter every time the Hawks threatened to bridge the gap, a high-banking fadeaway from Gillespie as the buzzer sounded just the latest in a long string. It ensured they went into the half with their first double-digit lead of the night, up 47-37 and feeling pretty good about their chances of stealing a win.
The Magic were led at the main break by Wagner, who had racked up 11 points, 2 rebounds and an assist in the opening half. Harris had 8 despite a cold shooting night from the floor (1-5), perfect free-throw shooting (5-5) offsetting that particular problem. Gillespie was a ball of energy at both ends in putting up 5 points, 5 rebounds and 2 blocks, while both Okeke and Gravett were surprisingly working on triple-doubles: the former with 7 points, 4 rebounds and a hefty 5 steals at the half, while the latter had a well-rounded 5 points, 4 assists and 3 rebounds. Most importantly, the Magic were winning both the turnover (7 to Atlanta’s 11) and floor accuracy (42.5% compared to 33.3%) battles, marks they would have to maintain to escape with a short-handed victory.
Orlando opened the third quarter with a burst similar to that they employed at the start of the second, this one powered instead by some of the veteran faces remaining on the roster. Lopez and Harris combined for 7 quick points before a driving finish by Wagner capped the quick 9-2 burst, extending the Magic’s advantage to 17 and sending the Hawks to a timeout less than four minutes into the half.
The lead ballooned to as many as 20 on the back of a Gravett triple, the clean look generated by a one-handed cross court sling by Lopez out of the post. The team’s biggest lead of the night also signaled the beginning of a cold spell for the Magic, who suffered through more than four scoreless minutes as the Hawks pieced together an 13-0 run.
Wagner briefly stemmed the tide with a tough finish after a foray into the paint, but the Hawks immediately countered with a triple to Cam Reddish to slice the margin to just a half-dozen. Another swooping finish by Wagner was followed by a corner triple to Johnson that briefly pushed the Magic back out by double figures, before the Hawks closed with a pair of free throws. The game moved to the final quarter delicately poised, Orlando nursing a 70-61 advantage through three.
The Magic were able to strike first in the final frame, turning turnovers into transition buckets and letting Lopez make plays from the post. When the veteran big man found a cutting Admiral Schofield with a beautiful one-hander for an and-one opportunity he had a career-high 6 assists (and counting), which he followed up with a rolling finish in the lane to help swell Orlando’s lead to 15.
Atlanta were able to twice slice the margin to 10, but a series of three-point bombs by the Magic allowed them to re-establish their dominance. Schofield knocked in a pair, Johnson another, and Wagner got in on the act with a crafty three-point play of his own. It looked like things might be about to blow out further, but the Hawks stayed with it and managed to capitalize on a couple of empty Orlando possessions. After splitting a pair of free throws Collins and Reddish hit back-to-back triples, again reducing the deficit to an even 10 and sending the Magic to a timeout to regroup.
Despite one last push from Reddish and the Hawks Orlando were able to hold on, getting some valuable clutch contributions from their veterans to help close things out. Harris hit some more freebies, while Lopez stole a possession on the offensive glass, picking out Okeke for a back-breaking corner three. It was ultimately enough to keep Atlanta at bay, the Magic wrapping up the game by a final margin of 104 to 98.
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: the Lake(land) Show — where to start?! Gravett provided a composed 8, 5 and 5 in his first career start. Johnson was instant offense off the bench, shooting 6-7 and racking up 14 points. Gillespie was all energy on his way to 5 points, 8 rebounds and 2 blocks. Schofield was a perfect 2-2 from deep. Without the Lakeland Magic in the house Orlando don’t come away from this one with a win.
Second star: Robin Lopez — the career-high 11 (!) assists were the obvious story, with the team funneling much of its offensive action through the veteran center to great effect. However, he also added 10 points with his patented hook shot as well as 5 rebounds, a steal, and a block in a complete performance.
Third star: Franz Wagner — was the bucket-getter the Magic needed on a night when offense was difficult to come by, with some beautiful finishes in the lane that simply don’t seem like the product of a rookie. Was also an active deterrent on defense, picking up a steal and two blocks for his efforts.
After back-to-back wins for the first time this season, the Magic move to 7-25 on their campaign. Up next (hopefully), is a home date against the Pelicans tomorrow.