Markelle Fultz was back in the Orlando Magic starting lineup for the first time since tearing his ACL in January of 2021.
He did not disappoint, helping lead a shorthanded Magic team down three starters to a 120-115 over a Cavs team that had plenty to play for.
Fultz opened alongside Jalen Suggs, who returned after missing 10 games with an ankle injury, forming a starting backcourt that the Magic hope will be a successful pairing for the next decade.
But early on, it was one of the Magic bigs who helped Orlando overcome a slow start as they played without Wendell Carter Jr., Cole Anthony and Franz Wagner, who returned after missing his first game of the season with a sprained ankle but then sprained his other ankle minutes into Tuesday’s game and did not return.
After the Cavs jumped out to a 14-3 lead, Mo Bamba went on to make all five of his first-quarter three-point attempts. He scored nine straight for the Magic during one stretch that cut the deficit to 19-18, then added another to give Orlando s 26-24 lead.
The Magic went 7-for-11 from deep in the first and shot 53.8 percent overall, assisting on 11 of 14 field goals. But they still trailed 36-35 after one as the Cavs shot 59.1 percent in the quarter, going 6-for-10 from three, which included three makes by Lauri Markkanen.
It was Iggy Brazdeikis who took over offensively in the second, scoring 12 points in the quarter. His second three of the quarter came after Fultz started the break by delivering an outlet pass through his legs to Okeke, who kicked it to Brazdeikis in the corner for a 54-51 Magic lead. Brazdeikis scored seven of the last eight Orlando points in the quarter, setting a new season-high before halftime with 14 points. But the Cavs closed the half on a 7-0 run to take a 61-59 lead into the break.
After a mostly quiet first half, Fultz came alive early in the third. It began with him using some Penny-esque ballhandling trickery to hit the straightaway jumper...
Fultz then drove baseline and found a cutting Bamba for the dunk. After a Bamba block, Fultz led the break and scooped a pass to Suggs for the transition layup. hits baseline jumper to put the Magic back in front at 71-69. He followed by backing down Darius Garland and hitting a turnaround hook shot and then draining a pull-up jumper, scoring six straight for Orlando to cap a 10-1 run that pushed the lead to 75-70.
In 6:17 of playing time in the third quarter, Fultz had 10 points (5-for-7 shooting) and two assists. Fultz returned to start the fourth but checked out for good with 9:13 left in the game, finished with 16 points on 8-for-12 shooting and six assists in a season-high of nearly 24 minutes.
Moe Wagner scored 10 points in the opening five minutes of the fourth quarter, capped with a three that pushed the Magic lead to 103-95. A transition bucket by R.J. Hampton, who ran the point for the bulk of the fourth, gave the Magic their first double-digit lead of the game with just over six minutes remaining.
After the Cavs cut it to four, Hampton managed to save an errant pass and then kick it out to Okeke, who hit a three as the shot clock was expiring to put the Magic up 115-108.
The Cavs chipped away and had a chance to tie it but Markkanen missed an open three. Brazdeikis then missed a fadeaway but grabbed his own rebound and converted a difficult putback for a 117-112 lead with 28.5 seconds left. That gave the Magic 20 second-chance points on the night...
Iggy gave those points and another right back following a Cavs miss. He lobbed a lazy outlet pass down court that was picked off and led to a three by Garland with 16.3 seconds left to trim the Magic lead to two.
Hampton then hit a pair of free throws to seal the win as the Magic played spoiler against a Cavs team in need of a win while fighting for position in the play-in tournament.
The Magic had eight players in double figures as the team combined to shoot 50.5 percent from the field, making 16 of 35 attempts from deep (45.7 percent).
Bamba led the way with 21 points, 12 rebounds and six blocks that matched a career high. He didn’t make another three after the first, missing his last four attempts to finish 5-for-9, but did have a rare statistical accomplishment...
.@OrlandoMagic center @TheRealMoBamba becomes the sixth player in @NBA history (seventh time it’s happened) to record 5+ 3-pointers and 6+ blocked shots in a single game.@NBAHistory #MagicTogether pic.twitter.com/sed2f8kZP4— Orlando Magic PR (@Magic_PR) April 6, 2022
Brazdeikis finished with a season-high 20 points and six rebounds, going 8-for-16 from the field. Moe Wagner had 15 points, Okeke and Robin Lopez each had 11, Hampton had 10 points and seven assists and Devin Cannady made three threes and finished with 10 points. Suggs was quiet in his return, scoring four points on 2-for-5 shooting in 18 minutes.
The balanced attack led to one of the Magic’s most impressive wins of the season, and its one that all can enjoy because with the Thunder beating the Blazers on Tuesday, the Magic officially clinched one of the three worst records in the league to maximize their lottery odds.
They now head on the road for the final time this season to take on the Hornets on Thursday. The Magic then return home to host the Heat on Sunday in the season finale.