This was certainly a tale of two tremendously different teams.
One for whom the contest represented a chance to sew up the advantage of home court through the first three rounds of the playoffs. The proverbial cherry on top of a sublime season that may yet end in the most valuable outcome of all.
For the other, it was a showdown predicated on ping pong balls. What ought to be the awkward circumstance of a desired loss was by now actually a banal formality, with only the outcome of defeat offering the promise of brighter days to come.
Can you guess which team won?
Orlando had significant difficulty breaking down the 76ers’ defense in the first quarter, with ineffective penetration and minimal off-ball movement allowing the length of the opposition to stymie shot attempts. Although Philadelphia weren’t scoring the ball crisply themselves, the suffocating defense was enough to help them twice open up an 8 point advantage. However, a three-point avalanche re-calibrated the tenor of the contest, with the Magic ripping off 6 of 7 from deep to race back into a contest they were seemingly out of. Gary Harris and Ignas Brazdeikis both had a pair, while Dwayne Bacon was shockingly tied for the team lead in assists (2) at the first break. It was 27-24 Philadelphia’s way at quarter-time.
Unfortunately the second quarter was a stagnant affair for the Magic, with the depth, talent and length of Philadelphia steadily grinding Orlando out of the contest. Clean looks were incredibly difficult to come by, while defensive sequences were inevitably undone by the number of shooting and playmaking threats that the 76ers could inject into every possession. They opened the quarter on a 7-0 run and simply didn’t slow down after that, outscoring Orlando 32-19 the rest of the way. Outside of some nice chemistry evident in a trio of RJ Hampton and Mo Bamba hookups, it was a tough period for fans of the Magic to watch.
At the half it was a 23 point hole for the visitors, down 66-43 against a team with plenty to play for. Sub-40% shooting, an anemic 3-8 from the free-throw line, and the carelessness evident in 7 turnovers told the story of the half, particularly when compared to Philadelphia’s shooting mark of 48.9% and 14-15 free-throws. Despite the one-sided nature of the contest some positives were evident, including Brazdeikis’ team-pacing 14 points on 6-8 shooting, and Hampton’s stat-stuffing 6, 5 and 5 with zero turnovers.
The third quarter really just ambled along, with the Magic struggling to male inroads against Philadelphia’s stout defense and the 76ers doing just enough to comfortably maintain their sizable advantage. The length and agility of Ben Simmons swallowed up Cole Anthony and ensured a miserable night for the Magic’s rookie point guard, while Wendell Carter Jr. could achieve little against the physical Joel Embiid. With the shooting stroke having long abandoned Orlando it was just a matter of time, with a seemingly inevitable 8-0 Philly burst blowing the game wide open for good. A margin that had escalated to 31 sent the Magic scrambling to a timeout, eventually settling at 27 after the reserves were able to chip away in the quarter’s closing minutes.
Lethargy was the primary feeling of the final period, with both teams drifting through sequences and possessions. For fans of the Magic there was Brazdeikis’ career-high to enjoy, as well as the chase of Hampton’s first ever triple-double. The speedster got tantalizingly close but couldn’t quite find the final helper he needed, falling one assist short of the mark. When all was said and done it was a 25 point blowout, the Magic falling 122-97 against the Eastern Conference’s top seed.
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: RJ Hampton — 12 points, 11 rebounds and 9 assists as the rookie guard continued his strong stretch of play. Best of all, he didn’t record a turnover until he went hunting for assists in the game’s closing minutes.
Second star: Iggy B — 21 points on 9-12 shooting, including a trio of makes from deep. His career night paced the team, which is not a statement I would ever have thought I’d be typing this season.
Third star: Dwayne Bacon, Tank Commander — 0-11 from the floor in 22 minutes. The work of a consummate professional.
It’s not the end, but we’re close. The Magic now have some important decisions to make about who sees the court during Sunday’s season finale.