The defending NBA champions got their third win of the season over the Orlando Magic Tuesday night. Behind Giannis Antetokounmpo’s 28 points, 6 rebounds, and 6 assists, the Milwaukee Bucks defeated Orlando 127-110 at the Amway Center.
But all the buzz following the game was about rookie forward Franz Wagner, who scored a career-high 38 points (4-8 3PTA’s) - to go along with 7 rebounds and 3 assists.
“His determination to get downhill,” Magic head coach Jamahl Mosley said of Wagner after the game when asked what he saw from his rookie Tuesday night. “We got a couple of stops that allowed him to get down the floor. And we talk about his basketball I.Q. and his competitiveness, his ability to just make the right reads. And then just attacking the rim, understanding how to get there with force and put pressure on the rim.”
The Magic started the game playing with a lot of energy and efficiency on the offensive end. Orlando connected on six of their first nine attempts from the floor. 10 of their first 13 points in the game came in the painted area. Starting center Robin Lopez led the way early, putting his signature hook shot on display against the defending champs.
The Bucks settled in behind their usual suspects. Khris Middleton, Jrue Holiday, and Antetokounmpo combined to make eight of their first ten attempts from the field (19 combined points in the first quarter).
Milwaukee pushed their lead to 15 points early in the second quarter following consecutive three-point field goals from Bobby Portis. A three-point make from the left corner by George Hill a few Milwaukee offensive possessions later extended the Bucks’ lead to 21 points.
On the bright side for Orlando, Wagner displayed his wide-range of skills (in front of his former Michigan coach Juwan Howard, whose team is in Orlando and scheduled to play UCF Thursday) for a two-minute stretch in the second quarter, drawing numerous cheers from the home crowd.
“I saw everybody, it was really cool to see all my friends,” Wagner said after the game when asked if he had a chance to touch base with Coach Howard and the rest of the Michigan basketball team while they were in town. “Honestly, the coaching staff has been a huge part of not only the program, but also my development. It was cool to have a good game (in front of them), but I wanted to get the win.”
On the break, Wagner made a beautiful lob (right on the money) to Wendell Cater Jr., which led to an easy dunk. The next Orlando offensive possession, Wagner made a pass off the dribble from the right-wing (with his right hand) to an open Magic shooter planted in the opposite left corner. Defensively, Wagner blocked a Bucks field goal attempt on the following possession, and finished off the flurry with a running layup off a pump-fake from beyond the arc on the left-wing.
However, the story of the second quarter was Portis, who scored 14 points in the period (4-4 on 3PTA’s). As a team, the Bucks outscored the Magic 39-6 on three-point field goals in the first half (Milwaukee: 13 for 24 on 3PTA’s, Orlando: 2 for 15).
Incredibly, Orlando opened the second half on a 21-4 run, cutting Milwaukee’s lead to just ten points. Wagner Jr. again led the way, scoring 14 of his 38 points in the third quarter. The rookie was seemingly keeping Orlando in the game by himself, scoring in the paint off the dribble, on perimeter jump shots, and getting himself to the line (career-high 10 attempts Tuesday).
“I love our team’s resiliency and their ability to fight (continue to fight),” Mosley said after the game. “We could’ve checked it in, but our guys knew coming out in that third quarter that they had to come out swinging. Get a little more physical, get them a little more uncomfortable. And that (led to) our ability to get stops and get out and run.”
All in all, the Magic outscored the Bucks 37-25 in the third quarter, making it a 15-point contest heading to the game’s final twelve minutes.
To begin the fourth, Antetokounmpo drove to the rim off the dribble from the top of the key and slammed down a thunderous dunk, plus a somewhat questionable foul that was reviewed by the Magic (and upheld). He then buried a three-point attempt from the right wing on Milwaukee’s next offensive possession, pushing Milwaukee’s lead back to 17 points.
But back-to-back buckets from Wagner, one in the paint and another from the left corner, brought Orlando back within 12. The left corner three put Wagner at 30 points, the first such game of his career.
Franz Wagner has now scored a career-high 30 points pic.twitter.com/CDO5tpZOJo— Orlando Magic (@OrlandoMagic) December 29, 2021
A layup off a steal by Tim Frazier cut Milwaukee’s lead to ten points with just over seven minutes remaining in the game, and consecutive three-point field goals from R.J. Hampton and Carter Jr. narrowed Milwaukee’s lead to single-digits. But that would be as close as the Magic would get.
Another thunderous dunk in the paint from Antetokounmpo sealed the win for Milwaukee with two minutes remaining in the contest.
Carter Jr. finished the game with 19 points and 10 rebounds in 33 minutes.
Wagner’s career night marked the highest amount of points any rookie has scored in a game this season. In fact, Wagner now has two of the top three scoring games in the 2021 rookie class.
Franz Wagner tonight:— StatMuse (@statmuse) December 29, 2021
38 PTS (career high)
He’s the first Magic rookie with a 30-point game on 50/50/100% shooting since Dennis Scott in 1990. pic.twitter.com/BAO29vDSLC
Khris Middleton finished with 21 points (8-14 FGAs), and Holiday double-doubled - finishing with 18 points and 10 assists.
As a team, Milwaukee finished the game 17 for 37 from beyond the arc (45.9 percent).
Of note, after gaining two players back from the league’s Health & Safety protocols Tuesday (Iggy Brazdeikis and Moritz Wagner), the Magic lost Hassani Gravett to COVID-19 protocols. Interestingly enough, Gravett was pulled from the game midway through the third quarter, after playing just under 19 minutes against the Bucks.
Orlando will get another crack at the defending champs Thursday night, hosting Milwaukee for a second consecutive contest.