Still smarting from their poor showing against the Kings just 24 hours earlier, the Magic entered Tuesday night’s showdown with the Blazers seeking redemption. Despite it being the second night of a road back-to-back they found it, playing with improved intensity and effort (particularly at the defensive end) as they secured a hard-earned 109-106 victory.
Both the energy and execution were excellent for the Magic across the game’s opening minutes, a tone-setting stretch that demonstrated the team’s intent to make amends for their lackadaisical last start. Getting downhill was an obvious priority, with Orlando’s ballhandlers attacking the driving lanes and off-ball cutters slicing to the hoop with great success. With Paolo Banchero and Markelle Fultz leading the way the Magic quickly opened up a double-digit advantage, racing to a 26-10 lead after seven-and-a-half minutes of action.
Portland responded by piecing together a 10-2 run, finally finding the bottom of the hoop on an attempt from range and benefiting from some of Orlando’s own cool three-point shooting. However, the timely contributions of the Wagner brothers – not to mention the non-stop hustle of Jalen Suggs to first save a loose ball, then relocate to the other side of the court, and then make a mid-air pass to Franz at the hoop – allowed the Magic to largely maintain their cushion, the first quarter ending with Orlando up 33-20.
The defensive intensity continued in the early stages of the second, forced turnovers fueling chances for Orlando at the other end. The team was active with hands in passing lanes and generally crisp rotations, making life difficult for Portland on the perimeter even as they struggled to contain the Blazers closer to the hoop. A mid-ranger by Franz briefly pushed the lead to 19, but that was as easy as it would get for Orlando.
Poor ball security and some wayward shooting allowed Portland to get back into the contest, the Magic without a point for almost five minutes as the Blazers built a 13-0 run. Fultz stemmed the tide with a flush in the open court, Moe Wagner then chipping in 5 points of his own to help Orlando largely keep pace with their surging opponent. However, the team’s eighth turnover of the quarter (and twelfth of the half) ultimately allowed Portland to knot the scores back up, Banchero and Jusuf Nurkic trading free-throws in the closing seconds as the two sides entered the half at 50 apiece.
At the main break the Magic were led by Franz’s 12 points and 2 assists, with support coming from both Banchero (10 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists and 3 ‘stocks’) and Fultz (10 points on 4-4 shooting). Orlando’s superior finishing from the field (48.8% vs 41.9%) and from deep (30.8% vs 16.7%) was offset by the team’s 12 turnovers, the 7 offensive rebounds ceded, and the 14 free-throws they gave up to the Blazers.
A combination of jumpers and free-throws by Banchero and Wendell Carter Jr. saw the Magic rip off 15 straight to open the third, an almost five-minute stretch during which the Blazers failed to trouble the scorers. The lead was still 11 when the reserves started to check in, and unlike in the first half this time Orlando was able to largely protect the margin. Some timely buckets by Cole Anthony and Moe Wagner kept the Magic in control, despite the team settling for a less aggressive shot profile and some inconsistent defense allowing Damian Lillard to get on a roll. Still, 82-73 heading into the fourth was an advantage that Orlando had earned.
An early 7-0 spurt by Portland trimmed the lead to 5, the Magic countering by putting the ball in Franz’s hands. The silky forward quickly had a pair of silky finishes at the hoop and a nothing-but-net triple, support coming from Carter Jr. in the two-man game. Still, the Magic couldn’t find either the stops or the barrage of baskets they needed to break the game open, the Blazers hanging tight at 95-90 with 5:35 remaining.
Fultz and Franz continued to control the halfcourt for the Magic, dialing up a series of clean looks that briefly pushed the margin back to double-digits. 7 straight to Wagner gave him 15 in the quarter, a pull-up triple capping the sequence and feeling like it may have been enough for Orlando to close it out.
However, Portland scored 7 of the game’s next 8 points to reduce the margin to just 4, an offensive foul on Banchero appearing to give them a chance to make it a one-possession contest. A timely coach’s challenge overturned the call, though, delivering the Magic a pair of free-throws to maintain their cushion with only 1:14 to play.
Ultimately the team would be forced to earn it the hard way, 5 consecutive points to Lillard – including a very dubious whistle that gifted him three free-throws – making it 107-106 with the shot clock turned off. Fultz then calmly knocked down a pair from the charity stripe before the Blazers missed three looks from deep that could have tied it up, a chaotic final sequence that could have gone either way. When the siren finally sounded it was 109-106 to the Magic, though, a well-deserved victory that pushes their tally on the current road trip to 2-1.
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 — 29 points on 12-20 shooting, including a 15 point final-quarter outburst that further cements his status as Fourth Quarter Franz. He was awesome when the team needed it most.
Second star: Markelle Fultz — 18 points on 7-8 shooting, 7 assists against 3 turnovers, and a pair of clutch free-throws when things got (very) tight. A complete nuisance defensively and a dependable quarterback on offense.
Third star: Paolo Banchero — a 19 point double-double for the rookie, who was enormous in the first quarter but then took a bit of a backseat to his teammates as the game rolled on. Still, the Magic don’t win without him setting an early tone.
The road trip rolls on for the Magic, with a Friday night showdown against the surprising Jazz up next. Be sure to join us back here then as the team attempts to build on this success.