The Orlando Magic were able to score an eighth win in their last nine opportunities Friday night as they defeated Gregg Popovich and the visiting San Antonio Spurs, 133-113.
“We were able to string a couple stops together (in the fourth quarter), and guys knocked some shots down,” Magic head coach Jamahl Mosley told reporters after the game when asked about his team’s play down the stretch. “We understood how to trust in the pass, and just trusted the process of what we were doing defensively. And then obviously finishing up, defensive rebounding was better (than it was earlier in the game).”
The home team was as close to full-strength as they have been all season, as only three players (Jalen Suggs, Jonathan Isaac, and Chuma Okeke) missed the game due to an injury. After missing close to a month of action, Orlando welcomed back both Wendell Carter Jr. (foot) and Gary Harris (hamstring).
The Magic were led by Cole Anthony, who scored a game-high 23 points (8-10 FGA’s, 4-4 3PTA’s). Anthony also added 10 rebounds and 9 assists, both season-highs for the third-year guard.
“Such great growth on his behalf,” Mosley said of Anthony after the game Friday. “Understanding that there’s going to be times in the game where he’s facilitating, times that he can get it going. Obviously, flirting with the triple-double. But the one thing that I love the most is that he respects the game (that he didn’t chase a stat).”
Franz Wagner added 21 points (7-15 FGA’s) and 4 assists, while rookie forward Paolo Banchero chipped-in with 18 points (7-15 FGA’s) and 6 rebounds.
It was an incredibly hot shooting night for Orlando, who converted 57.5 percent of their field goal attempts, including 17 for 32 shooting from beyond the arc (53.1 percent).
In front of an energetic and joyful holiday-filled crowd, things were a bit sloppy to begin the game. The Magic and Spurs combined to turn the ball over seven times within the game’s first six minutes of action.
Luckily for the Magic, when they were taking care of the basketball, it was going in the hoop early on. Orlando made 13 of their 18 field goal attempts in the opening period (72.2 percent), led by forward Bol Bol. The 7-2 big man scored 12 of his 14 points through the game’s first twelve minutes (5-6 FGA’s, 2-2 3PTA’s in the first quarter for Bol).
A scary moment occurred midway through the first quarter when Orlando starting point guard Markelle Fultz rolled his ankle and had to briefly leave the game. The sixth-year guard came down on a Spurs player’s foot while contesting a shot from the perimeter. Fultz limped off the court and went directly to the locker room, but he returned shortly thereafter.
San Antonio drew even in the second quarter behind their activity on the offensive glass. Despite playing with two centers on their second unit, the Magic struggled to box out and rebound defensively. The Spurs were disruptive on the defensive end as well, confusing Orlando players who were playing in new lineup combinations (due to players coming back from injury).
The Spurs scored 24 of the first 34 points registered in the second quarter.
After falling behind by as many as nine in the second, the Magic starters closed the first half on a 9-0 run to square things up with the Spurs heading to intermission.
The game swung back and forth in the third quarter as San Antonio continued to play aggressively on the defensive end, disrupting post entry passes, passing lanes, and live-ball dribbling. Unfortunately for the Spurs, they were a bit too aggressive, committing eight fouls in the third quarter - which led to eleven Magic free throw attempts in the period.
The highlight of the night came with just over two minutes remaining in the third quarter, as Banchero drove to the basket from the right elbow and lobbed a perfect pass off the dribble to Carter Jr., who emphatically slammed the feed home (plus the foul) to give the Magic an advantage.
A F. Wagner three-point make from the right wing a few possessions later gave the Magic a two-possession lead over the Spurts heading to the final period.
The Magic pushed their lead to double-digits behind three consecutive three-point field goals that came from reserve center Mo Bamba. All of Bamba’s points in the game came in the final period.
The 21-7 run Orlando went on to begin the fourth quarter provided them with all the cushion they would need to cruise the rest of the way against the visiting Spurs, extending their lead to as many as 26 points.
“We played two and three quarters well, but we have a hard time putting together a 48-minute game, and we saw that when the defense collapsed at the end of the third quarter,” Popovich told reporters after the game. “(Into the fourth) they outscored us in a 10-minute stretch 46-20. So, we’ve seen it before and saw it tonight, that’s the deal.”
The night belonged to Anthony, who scored 10 points and dished-out 6 assists in the fourth quarter alone.
“On the defensive end, we really locked in,” Anthony told reporters after the game, when asked about that massive fourth quarter run that put the game away. “We started limiting them to one shot (and securing the rebounds). We got out and ran, and that’s what sparked our offense.”
The Magic have a huge opportunity to make it nine wins in their last ten games when LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers come to town next Tuesday for a post-Christmas matchup. Now riding a wave of success, Magic players expect the Amway Center to be raucous next week.
“The crowd has been awesome. Even when we were losing, we still had pretty good turnouts for most of our home games this year,” Anthony added after the game. “I just want to give a big shot out to the fans. Their energy has been awesome. They’ve been hyped when we score (whatever it is), it’s been awesome for us to see.”