Looking to make amends for both their last start loss to the Lakers and the season-opening defeat they suffered against Detroit, the Magic ultimately laid an egg, falling to the Pistons by 20 in a fiery contest. A bench-clearing scuffle instigated by Moe Wagner resulted in three ejections and a lengthy delay just before halftime, the game largely sapped of its competitiveness after the break as Detroit coasted to a 121-101 win.
The Magic actually jumped out to an early advantage, hitting 4 of their first 5 shots to take a 9-0 lead. The Pistons, by comparison, couldn’t get anything to go, missing their first 5 attempts from deep – and 7 overall! – before finally cashing in a corner three. It triggered a Detroit run of 8 straight points before Bol Bol was able to gather and drop back in his own miss at the rim.
The contest remained knotted through much of the remainder of the first, Orlando nudging ahead on a handful of occasions only for Detroit to reel them back in. The Pistons eventually took their first lead with less than two minutes remaining in the quarter, the Magic going without a made field goal for five minutes as the offense stagnated. Cole Anthony ended the drought in the dwindling seconds, Orlando ultimately trailing 27-23 at the first break.
A Cole Anthony block from behind early in the second kickstarted a Magic fastbreak that Franz Wagner finished with an and-one, the stand-out play in a 7-0 spurt that briefly restored Orlando’s lead. The team continued to attack the hoop, with the guards hunting out dribble penetration, cutters slashing into space from the wings, and the bigs working the offensive glass. It was an approach that helped to alleviate the clunky offense otherwise, the Magic largely keeping pace even as Detroit hit three threes in a 70-second sequence.
Looking for a jolt the Magic switched their defense up with a zone, a look that the Pistons quickly dismantled. They extended the margin to 9 before Orlando abandoned the 2-3 deployment, Detroit eventually pushing it to a dozen on Saddiq Bey’s third three-pointer of the period. An 8-0 burst by the Pistons was eventually ended by Markelle Fultz, the point guard’s basket also the Magic’s first field goal in four-and-a-half minutes.
And then things erupted.
With the quarter winding towards what seemed a quiet conclusion, an errant pass from Caleb Houstan looked like it might turn into a Detroit fastbreak. However, as Moe Wagner tracked the ball into the backcourt he decided to take some liberties, leveling Killian Hayes with an unnecessary shove that sent the Piston sprawling into his own bench. Players from both sides – and, importantly, Orlando’s bench – immediately spilled onto the floor, with shoves, grapples and even a cheap blow to the back of M. Wagner’s head further escalating an already ugly situation. After a lengthy review three players – Wagner, Hayes and Diallo – were ejected.
When the dust of the second quarter mercifully settled the Magic found themselves in a nineteen point hole, down 66-47 to Detroit at the main break.
The play was understandably discombobulated coming out of halftime, both teams opening the third with 2-7 shooting from the floor along with a handful of clumsy turnovers. Whistles were also a more frequent occurrence, the referees maintaining a tight hold over proceedings with the fracas still firmly in mind. Eventually, though, it was the Pistons who locked in their radar first, Alec Burks drilling a pair of back-to-back triples that pushed the margin to 20, Detroit up 80-60.
To their credit, the Magic continued to chip away at the deficit despite the team-wide lack of rhythm on the night. Fultz was able to create looks for teammates after halfcourt sequences bogged down, while Orlando’s big men further pressed inside. Strong two-way play by Mo Bamba impressed during a 10-0 Magic run, Paolo Banchero flushing home a Bamba-assisted dunk that punctuated the spurt and brought Orlando back within 15. That’s where it landed at three-quarter time, 92-77 Detroit’s way with twelve to play.
Back-to-back triples to Franz Wagner and Gary Harris cut the margin to a dozen early in the fourth, but it was as close as the Magic would get. Every time Orlando scored the Pistons were able to find a basket of their own to counter, usually in the form of a back-breaking triple. It finished 121-101, Orlando suffering their second consecutive defeat in a largely dispiriting performance.
In a game that will ultimately be remembered for the second-quarter altercation and not the basketball played, it was the three-point line that proved the major difference. Led by Alec Burks off the bench – who hit his first ten shots from the field (and six from deep!) and finished with 32 on 10-11 shooting – the Pistons canned 18 of their 42 long-range attempts (42.9%), easily outstripping the 5-22 mark (22.7%) that the Magic posted. The teams also combined for an almost unfathomable 74 free-throw attempts, further evidence of the disjointed nature of this contest.
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: Franz Wagner — 19 points on 7-15 shooting, to go along with 6 rebounds, 3 assists and a steal in a solid showing. Perhaps most importantly, the smooth wing kept his head throughout the contest, playing with purpose both early and after emotions escalated.
Second star: Markelle Fultz — a horrible shooting night (2-12, 6 points) for the point guard, but on too many possessions he was the only Magic player able to generate much of anything in the halfcourt. Finished with 9 assists, 7 rebounds and a steal, with just a single turnover.
Third star: Wendell Carter Jr. — played with energy coming off the bench, accumulating 16 points and 8 rebounds despite never looking totally comfortable with the team’s offensive gameplan. It’s on the coaching staff to get the bog man back to the level of his early season form.
The Magic are next in action on Friday night, the major question being that of availability. With multiple suspensions likely looming it’s currently impossible to know what the lineup will look like, but suffice to say the team will be far from full strength as they look to arrest this mini slide.