Orlando Magic head coach Steve Clifford told reporters during his pregame conference early Monday evening that third year guard Luka Doncic was one of the few players in the NBA his defensive-minded teams have never been able to solve.
Honestly, he was on to something. Because inside the Amway Center Monday night, it was business as usual for the young Slovenian superstar against the home team.
Doncic scored 33 points, grabbed 10 rebounds, and dished-out 9 assists as the Mavericks held off a late push from the Magic, topping Orlando 130-124.
Jalen Brunson scored 24 points in 29 minutes off Dallas’ bench (on 9 of 13 shooting from the floor).
The Magic scored over 120 points for the fifth time this season, but this was the first time Orlando came away with a loss under those circumstances.
“Too many mistakes on the defensive end of the floor,” Clifford told reporters during his postgame conference after the game. “Offensively, we were fine, good enough to win. But particularly in the first half, our side pick-and-roll defense (which is normally a strength), blown coverages, spread out all over the place.”
Orlando’s defensive resistance in the painted area left much to be desired early in the game. Dallas scored 10 of their first 14 points on straight-line drives to the basket off one-on-one dribble penetration.
Luckily for the Magic, Vucevic and Fournier had it going on offensively to keep their team in the game. Orlando’s All-Star center scored seven of the team’s fist nine points to open the game, while Fournier led all scorers in the game’s opening period - pouring in 12 of his 26 points in the quarter.
As expected, Doncic was heavily involved right away in Monday’s contest, scoring ten opening quarter points - including two jaw-dropping step-back three-point field goals from the left wing.
When Fournier and Vucevic went to the bench to start the second quarter, Orlando’s offense started to become stagnant. Dallas opened the period on an 18-6 run, buoyed in part by seven straight points from reserve guard Trey Burke.
Burke, who scored 29 points against the Magic in their first meeting earlier in the season (7 for 8 on three-point attempts), has averaged 14.1 points in his career against Orlando - the highest scoring average against any team he has faced throughout his career.
In a somewhat surprising move, Coach Clifford opted to go with Khem Birch at the backup center position in the second quarter (when Vucevic headed to the bench), which sent shockwaves through #MagicTwitter. Bamba had been playing in Clifford’s rotation (over Birch) through Orlando’s previous two contests. Bamba did not see the floor Monday.
“Pick & roll defense against them (Dallas) as much as anything,” Coach Clifford told me after the game, when asked about his decision to play Birch over Bamba Monday. “They’re such a high-volume pick & roll team. Khem is an exceptional pick & roll defender.”
As things looked like they were about to get out of hand, Vucevic and Fournier re-entered the game and got Orlando’s offensive attack back on track. The Magic were able to knockdown four critical three-point attempts (one by Vucveic, one by Chasson Randle, two from Fournier) to close the half, closing the Mavericks’ lead to just three points at intermission.
A near-critical moment in the game came early in the third quarter as Fournier, who buried another three-point field goal on Orlando’s opening offensive possession of the second half, hastily exited the contest holding what looked to be his lower back (it wasn’t in fact).
Luckily for the Magic, Fournier was able to return to the game with 2:31 left in the third.
Coach Clifford told reporters after the game that ‘it was something with Fournier’s groin’, but it wasn’t exactly clear at that moment if the injury was going to be something that will linger for Orlando’s starting shooting guard.
Brunson burned Orlando in the game’s final period, scoring eleven points in the closing quarter to put the game out of reach.
The Magic were able to keep the contest competitive at the end, but were never within more than three possessions in the game’s closing period. That is, until they were.
After a Terrence Ross three-point field goal (his third of the game) cut the Dallas lead to five points, Michael Carter-Williams stole an errant Brunson pass off an Orlando trap with less than thirty seconds remaining. However, a subsequent Ross heave missed everything, and Dallas never looked back.
In a losing effort, Vucevic finished with 29 points, 15 rebounds, and 8 assists.
After scoring just two points in the opening half, Kristaps Porzingis recorded a double-double (17 points, 10 rebounds), but converted just 5 of his 15 attempts from the field.
But the night belonged to Doncic. He put on an absolute show the for the limited fans in attendance at the Amway Center. Step-back jump shots, dribble-drives to the rim, dazzling no-look passes.
All this, and he’s just a day over 22. Incredible show young man.
The Magic are back in action Wednesday night to close out the first half of their season against the Atlanta Hawks.