One by one, the members of the Orlando Magic arrived at Amway Center on Monday wearing a No. 20 Markelle Fultz shirt.
It was in celebration of his comeback, with that No. 20 jersey having not been seen on the court in Orlando since Fultz suffered a torn ACL in January of 2021.
An absence that lasted 418 days and 125 missed games came to an end with 3:55 remaining in the first quarter on Monday as Fultz checked into the game to a standing ovation from the Orlando crowd.
Markelle Fultz receives a standing ovation in his first game back from a torn ACL pic.twitter.com/Wt1sAd5Crn— NBA TV (@NBATV) March 1, 2022
Fultz replaced Cole Anthony, joining a lineup that included Gary Harris, Franz Wagner, Chuma Okeke and Mo Bamba, and went on to help the Magic use strong ball movement and a balanced attack to defeat the Pacers 119-103.
On his first possession of the game, Fultz drove the lane, drew the defender and found a cutting Franz Wagner for the layup.
It was one of three first-quarter assists for Fultz, who also set up Gary Harris for a layup and Terrence Ross for a jumper to give the Magic a 31-28 lead after trailing by as many as nine in the quarter.
The Pacers, who hit four of their first six three-point attempts of the game to take an early 16-7 lead, had a 32-31 lead after one.
Fultz’s first bucket came in the opening minute of the second as he knocked down a pull-up jumper from the free throw line.
After a 7-0 Indiana run, Fultz continued to attack the rim as he drove the lane and split two defenders for the reverse layup...
Fultz checked out along with Harris with 8:07 remaining in the half, recording four points on 2-for-3 shooting and three assists in just under eight minutes of playing time. They were replaced by Jalen Suggs and R.J. Hampton, who immediately hit a three to pull the Magic within 39-38. The Pacers then responded with a 10-0 run.
Hampton followed with another three to spark a 12-4 Orlando run that made it a one-possession game at 53-50. Wendell Carter Jr. scored eight points over the final 4:30 of the second, registering a first-half double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds, to help the Magic go into the break trailing just 56-55.
The Magic shot 48.9 percent in the half despite going just 4-for-17 from three. The Pacers made 10 of 23 attempts from deep in the first half, led by Jalen Smith who went 3-for-5 from three and had 14 points.
Jalen Suggs helped the Magic take the lead in the third, delivering a pretty no-look feed under the basket to Carter Jr. for the dunk and then knocking down a three after a kick out from Anthony to put Orlando ahead 69-62.
Suggs later knocked down a jumper to push the lead to 73-64 and force an Indiana timeout. The Pacers continued to turn the ball over, committing five in the quarter midway through the third, as the Magic run reached 12-2 on a three by Bamba to open a double-digit lead.
Fultz checked back in with four minutes left in the third. He created an open look for Harris in the corner after spinning his way into the lane and kicking it out, but Harris was unable to knock down the shot. Fultz again went to the spin move to create space and knock down an 18-foot fadeaway to give the Magic a 95-70 lead heading into the fourth.
The Magic outscored the Pacers 35-19 in the third, with Indiana being held to five field goals and committing 10 turnovers in the quarter.
Chuma Okeke knocked down a three off a feed from Fultz on the Magic’s first possession of the fourth. Fultz later grabbed an offensive rebound and converted the putback, and on the next possession, kicked it to Harris in the corner for a three than gave the Magic a 98-80 lead.
Fultz’s final highlight of the evening came when he chased down a loose ball for the offensive rebound and cruised in for the layup.
Fultz checked out to another standing ovation, receiving a hug from Jamahl Mosley on his way to the bench.
Fultz finished with 10 points on 5-for-7 shooting, six assists, two rebounds and just one turnover in 16 minutes.
Markelle Fultz with 10 points, six assists, two rebounds and just one turnover in 16 minutes during his comeback game.— Orlando Pinstriped Post (@OPPMagicBlog) March 1, 2022
Great ball movement. Showed some bursts. Mid-range jumper looked smooth.
Magic win. pic.twitter.com/JL2qU1VMEY
The Magic had eight players in double figures, with 29 assists on 45 made field goals.
While Fultz will understandably steal the headlines, it was Suggs who showed off his playmaking ability, recording his second double-double of the season with 14 points on 5-for-9 shooting and 10 assists.
Carter Jr. had 21 points on 8-for-10 shooting and 12 rebounds. Bamba also had a double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds. Wagner had 15 points and Hampton added 12. Harris and Anthony each had 11, though Anthony went just 3-for-14 from the field.
We did not get to see Fultz play alongside either Suggs or Anthony in the backcourt during his first game back. It certainly will be interesting to see what the rotations look like over the remainder of the season with Mosley having so many mouths to feed in the backcourt.
But Fultz’s comeback got off to a strong start. Great to have No. 20 back on the court.
The Magic and Pacers meet again on Wednesday at Amway Center.