Another game, another reunion for the Magic, this time against the recently released Khem Birch and his Canadian counterparts, the Toronto Raptors. Despite hanging strong for a half Orlando ultimately came undone, the result of a wayward second half radar and some ineffective stretches on defense.
When Cole Anthony dribbled the ball out of bounds off his foot on the very first possession, long-suffering Magic fans could have been forgiven for thinking ‘here we go again’. However, the team was able to settle behind some sweet outside shooting, with Anthony, Wendell Carter Jr. and Chuma Okeke all burying triples to push the Magic to an early 13-6 lead. They were clean looks generated by purposeful inside-out play, with Anthony and Gary Harris probing the painted area and the ball then moving crisply to find the open man.
The Magic were aided during the game’s early stages by their solid defense and some wayward shooting by the Raptors. Harris was particularly noticeable in his clamping of the returning Fred Van Vleet, routinely making life difficult for his immediate matchup but also recovering and rotating effectively when required. Toronto actually opened 0-7 from deep and endured a stretch of more than six minutes without a field goal, only making some inroads on the scoreboard once the reserves checked in. For Orlando it was primarily Carter Jr. doing damage, going 3-5 from the field and racking up a personal tally of 9 points in the first quarter.
Toronto got back into it in the back half of the quarter thanks to the aggressive play of Yuta Watanabe. He scored on four of the Raptors’ next seven possessions after he checked in, adding a dime to Rodney Hood for a corner three for good measure. His pull-up jumper briefly pushed Toronto into the lead, before a smooth mid-range shot from Okeke with the seconds winding down knotted things back up at 24 apiece.
Scoring was a more difficult proposition for the Magic in the second quarter, with Toronto packing the paint and forcing Orlando away from the hoop. Chasson Randle and RJ Hampton had trouble generating opportunities in the halfcourt, a fact which was not helped by a series of clunky turnovers from teammates. The return of most of the starting unit helped to steady things as Anthony and Carter Jr went back to the pick and roll, but four consecutive misses from the field helped the Raptors extend the margin to five.
With three minutes to play in the half momentum decisively shifted. Orlando kicked off the sequence with an Okeke triple from the corner, the result of a hard drive-and-kick from Harris. On the very next possession the Magic went back to Okeke, the rookie flashing deft footwork in the post as he finished an up-and-under through his defender. Harris stripped Van Vleet to help stall the Raptors when Orlando’s jumpers momentarily dried up, before Anthony took advantage of some high space created by a Carter Jr. screen to bury a long three. Carter Jr. himself then added the next five, smoothly finishing a three-point play when Okeke found him with a beautiful assist and then stuffing back an offensive rebound with authority when the Raptors failed to box him out. It capped a 13-2 run for the Magic, pushing them to a 51-47 halftime lead.
It was Carter Jr. and Okeke leading the way at the main break, with the big man putting up 16 points and 6 rebounds while the rookie tallied 12 points with 3 assists. Anthony had a balanced 9 points, 5 rebounds and 2 assists as well as, most importantly, zero turnovers after committing the game’s first. Collectively the Magic had edged ahead in a number of key categories, including the battle of field goal percentage (42.5% to 40.5%), made threes (7 to 5), free throw attempts (16 to 8), and turnovers (just 4 compared to 7 for Toronto). As is the way, in 7 minutes Dwayne Bacon had 0 assists.
The game remained tight for most of the third, Toronto opening up a small lead on the back of a pair of Paul Watson triples and their backcourt finally finding the bottom of the net from the mid-range. Orlando countered by going back to the pick-and-roll game featuring Carter Jr., locking the contest up at 61 after Ross drilled a tough contested jumpshot. However, things started to get away from the Magic at that point, a couple of careless turnovers and some sloppy defensive possessions fueling a 15-0 Raptors run that featured four more long range bombs by a now unconscious Watson. Orlando’s ball handlers struggled against Toronto’s extended pressure, while the looks from the perimeter dried up (0-5 for the quarter). It ultimately allowed the Raptors to stage a 19 point turnaround in the period, the Magic facing an 85-70 deficit entering the fourth.
The fourth quarter was a relatively listless affair, with Orlando unable to make the inroads necessary to really put some pressure back on the Raptors. There were some nice moments — a Hampton steal and stuff; a slicing Bacon finish; a circus shot from Anthony — but the deficit never fell below 11. Watson (30) and Watanabe (20) both finished with career highs for Toronto, while Carter Jr. posted his second 20 point outing in pinstripes. The scoreboard finished 113-102 in the Raptors’ favor, Orlando undone by poor shooting and clumsy defense in the second half. As is the way, Bacon finally registered an assist with 30.2 seconds remaining and the game long-decided.
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: Wendell Carter Jr. — an efficient 20 and 9 for the Magic’s big man, who is noticeably morphing into the side’s offensive hub. Particularly evident tonight was the space he creates as the screen setter, regularly taking advantage on decisive rolls to the hoop.
Second star: Chuma Okeke — was brilliant in the first half, scoring efficiently and showing some developing playmaking chops as a secondary ball handler. Cooled in the game’s latter stages, but still impressed in a team performance that was largely forgettable.
Third star: Cole Anthony — 19 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists on 6 of 12 shooting, including 3 of 5 from deep. Had a few stretches where the Toronto defense stymied his play, but again demonstrated numerous flashes that suggest he’s well on his way towards figuring out the NBA game.
Magic lose, Bulls lose, Pistons win, Wizards win, the tank rejoices. We now roll onwards to Houston on Sunday.