New faces, new uniforms, new lineups … the tilt against the Pacers featured plenty of firsts for the new-look Magic. However, it was ultimately a familiar result, with the home side skidding to their fourth consecutive loss as the tumble towards the lottery continued.
Orlando got two clean looks to open the game, finding the bottom of the net first on a James Ennis drive and then on a mid-range jumper from Wendell Carter Jr. From there, however, the shooting touch dried up a little, with the team shooting just 1 for 6 with a turnover over the next half dozen possessions. The contesting of shots and solid defensive rebounding mitigated the damage somewhat, though, ensuring that Indiana was never able to open more than a one bucket advantage.
Cole Anthony checked in at the 6:48 mark and the offense started to shine a little brighter. On his first possession he got all the way into the paint, finishing a sweet bank shot leaning to his left. On the next sequence he patiently positioned Carter Jr. in the two man game, connecting with the big man on a smooth alley-oop when he rolled to the rim. Mo Bamba continued the offensive contributions when he checked in, drilling a three on his first touch and then getting a series of points at the hoop and from the charity stripe with his play around the hoop. A tough finish in traffic by Terrence Ross knotted the scores with just 2.1 seconds remaining in the quarter, before a long banked triple from Aaron Holiday again nudged the Pacers ahead. At the close of the quarter it was 33-30, Indiana’s way.
Ross opened Orlando’s account in the second by drilling a clean mid-range jumper off a find by Anthony, a sign of things to come for the Magic’s microwave scorer. Over the next few possessions he drilled a pair of three-pointers and an 18-footer, racking up the team’s first ten points of the period and giving him 14 for the personal account. RJ Hampton and Ennis chimed in on the break and from beyond the arc respectively, but that’s where things would gum up for Orlando. They endured a scoreless stretch of 4:37, with clunky shot attempts, poor spacing, and careless turnovers inflicting possession after possession. In fact, the Magic didn’t make a single field goal over the quarter’s final 5:45. Combined with some inattentive defense that failed to stay attached to outside shooters it allowed the Pacers to open up a double-figure advantage, ultimately closing the half up 64-51.
At one stage the biggest story of the period appeared to be an injury to Bamba. He got into an awkward spot when defending a Jeremy Lamb drive, his leg appearing to buckle in a way that put some stress on his hip. He was in immediate discomfort after the fall, signalling to the bench straight away and heading directly to the locker room. Thankfully, however, he was able to return to the game, the official diagnosis a left hip contusion that would slow but not stop the big man.
Early in the second quarter Mo Bamba took an awkward fall and is being evaluated in the locker room.— Bally Sports Florida: Magic (@BallyMagic) April 9, 2021
Keep any eye out for an update. pic.twitter.com/hnuuaq8zNP
The Magic’s general disorganization continued through the second half. Defensive possessions were punctuated by sequences of miscommunication, over-helping and slow rotations, while the offense often struggled to move the ball crisply. Gary Harris’ rusty debut continued unabated, eight straight misses from the field and a pair of turnovers highlighting just how much time he has missed recently. Still, Orlando were able to chip away at the deficit, using some dirty hustle efforts to generate a series of free throw attempts before Harris finally broke his donut with a smooth 23 foot jumper. His buried shot sent the Pacers to a time out, the margin now just 5 with the Magic trailing 74-69.
The scrappy physicality of the contest remained constant, with the teams trading well-contested chances close to the hoop as the quarter rolled towards a conclusion. Gary Harris finished a three-point chance after absorbing contact. Anthony got all the way to the hoop on a decisive drive. Bamba set some space-eating screens. Chuma Okeke finished a beautiful spin move through the lane with a silky finish at the hoop. If it weren’t for a pair of steals by the pesky TJ McConnell and a buzzer beating finish at the end the game may have already tilted back in Orlando’s favor; as it was, they entered the final frame down 83-78.
Things started to get away from the Magic in the opening minutes of the final frame. They struggled to contain Indiana’s off-ball cutters, with McConnell patiently picking out his teammates either moving to the hoop or with set-feet shot attempts. There was also some ineffectiveness evident in their blitz coverage, with multiple Pacers getting wide open three-point attempts when the roll man drew extra attention. This was exacerbated by a sluggish offense, with players struggling to generate clean chances against Indiana’s willing help defense. The deficit ballooned to as many as 15 before a quick six point burst brought the Magic back within single digits with 6:18 left to play.
In the game’s final minutes Orlando got within six on a couple of occasions, with MCW and WCJ hooking up on a pair of two-man sequences and Ross slicing through an aggressive high double and throwing down an absolute hammer at the hoop. He followed that up less than a minute later with an almost identical play, getting the Magic within four points and offering a glimmer of hope. Unfortunately they ultimately couldn’t bridge the gap, with Ross missing a tightly contested baseline jumper that effectively sealed the result. A pair of free throws to Ennis — where the Magic went 24-31 for the night — suggested one final chance, but the Pacers closed things at the line. The scoreboard showed 111-106 when the siren sounded, a tough loss for Orlando against a playoff-hopeful opponent.
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: Chuma Okeke — as more troops return to the Magic’s rotation he’s being asked to do a little less, but the fact is that he still looks so smooth and composed on the court, especially for a rookie. Totaled 8 points, 6 rebounds and a career-high 7 assists. He’s a keeper.
Second star: Terrence Ross — he’d be on this list for his pair of fourth quarter dunks alone, but was impressive elsewhere in racking up 24 points on 10-15 shooting.
Third star: Mo Bamba — wasn’t perfect and at one point looked gone for potentially a stretch of time, but still finished with 14 points, 6 rebounds, 3 blocks and a pair of assists in 22 minutes. Most importantly, had some really solid sequences at both ends of the floor.
Orlando are back in action on Sunday against the Bucks, where we can hopefully expect more of the same: some nice flashes from the young guys, a valiant contest, but a loss that keeps the team in sight of the juiciest lottery odds. Such is life on the rebuild.