The Magic’s Western Conference road trip continued with a contest in Salt Lake City, the offensively potent Jazz standing in the way of an unlikely 2-0 start to the sojourn. Despite the result remaining in the balance well into the fourth quarter it was that very scoring punch that allowed Utah to close it out, Orlando falling 114-99 as they ran out of answers.
The first quarter was one marred by Magic miscues. 6 turnovers. 16 missed shots. 0.0% shooting from the free-throw line. A scoring drought that stretched for almost five full minutes. For much of the period Orlando were scoring at the glacial pace of less than a point a minute, only reaching a dozen when Wendell Carter Jr. finally got an outside shot to fall. It was an incredibly rough start, the team getting more than doubled up as they went into the first break trailing 28-12.
Both Jalen Suggs and Terrence Ross were able to get jumpers to go early in the second, including consecutive triples for Ross that threatened a torch lighting. It allowed Orlando to essentially counter Utah’s transition game, and when Carter Jr. added a strong three-point play they were back within 11.
That is where the margin sat for the better part of the next two minutes, the teams combining for 6 missed shots and 3 turnovers as the game settled into a bit of a funk. Neither team could establish much in the way of momentum, so when Suggs and Cole Anthony were able to combine for back to back baskets it allowed the Magic to slice the deficit to single digits.
Impressive two way hustle by Anthony kept the scoreboard ticking over for the Magic; he first saved a ball that was headed out of bounds after a Mo Bamba swat before racing into trail position and drilling a deep three on the ensuing possession. A pair of free throws to the young point guard on the next trip reduced the margin a little further, before a tenacious steal and slam by Suggs drew the Magic back within 5. It was a fitting end to a strong quarter for Orlando, the team’s backcourt effectively piloting the side as they clawed their way back into the contest. They trailed just 44-39 at the main intermission despite the slow start.
Suggs’ impact in the second frame was such that he ended up playing a direct hand – either scoring or registering an assist – on 17 of the team’s 27 points in the period. It was a tenacious seven minute burst for the rookie, punctuated by the incessant defense he was playing on Utah’s Donovan Mitchell. He closed the half with a personal haul of 8 points, 5 assists and 3 steals, and once it became evident that he would be limited in the second half it largely robbed the Magic of their most impactful two-way presence.
The Magic were able to keep pace with the Jazz through the opening minutes of the third, working their way into the paint while Utah bombed away from the outside. It made for an intriguing contrast, and when Bamba slammed home his second dunk of the period it looked like Orlando’s strategy was helping them claim the momentum. They pushed this further on the next possession, WCJ capping a chaotic passing sequence with a strong drive for a three-point play, knotting the score up at 54 apiece.
Unfortunately, some sloppy work on the defensive glass undid much of the good work, Utah cashing in with triples on a consecutive pair of extended possessions. Orlando countered with some pick-and-roll action, putting Carter Jr. into sets with Franz Wagner and Anthony to get buckets on back-to-back sets. A beautiful driving find by Ross set up WCJ for his fifth bucket of the period, again reducing the margin to just a single basket. However, 5 points in 7 seconds – the result of an ineffective challenge at the rim and some sloppy passing – pushed Utah back out by 8, before the Magic closed the quarter with the final 4 points. They went to the final break trailing by just 3, down 77-74 with twelve minutes still to play.
Although Utah made the quicker start in the final frame, they couldn’t shake the pesky Magic. Despite making just 3 of their first 10 shots in the period they stayed within range, a leaning jumper in the mid-range by Gary Harris drawing Orlando back within 6. As it had been all night, however, the Magic’s resistance in the paint was shaky, Jordan Clarkson slicing into the lane on consecutive possessions and finding an alley-oop partner on both occasions. It pushed the score to 91-81, the largest deficit of the second half for Orlando.
Despite some impressive individual flourishes, including an acrobatic three-point play by Anthony and some suffocating one-on-one defense by Suggs, the Magic couldn’t find a way to close the gap any further. The team’s pick-and-roll coverage and defensive rotations continued to be poor, allowing the Jazz to maintain their advantage courtesy of points in the paint and clean looks from deep. It was a combination that allowed Utah to methodically pull away in the closing minutes, ultimately accounting for the Magic in a comfortable 15 point fashion.
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. — warmed up after some clunky shooting in the first, anchoring the Magic’s offense and arriving at his usual consistent personal haul. Finished with 22 points, 9 rebounds and 2 assists, even if he did struggle some at the defensive end.
Second star: Cole Anthony — the turnovers (7) were certainly a huge issue, but Anthony’s effort, energy and general offensive impact went a long way towards keeping the Magic in this one as they were. 18 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists, including 50.0% shooting from the floor and a perfect night from deep (3-3).
Third star: Jalen Suggs — it’s unfortunate that he was limited in the second half, because he looked genuinely impactful in the first before his availability became a question. It’s telling that, until he came back in the closing minutes, he was Orlando’s only player with a positive plus/minus.
The schedule offers the Magic no favors, a showdown with the Suns in the desert looming in just 24 hours time. Orlando will look to return to the winner’s circle against the league’s very best tomorrow.