In a game that came down to the last possession, the Magic unfortunately found themselves on the wrong side of the scoreboard after some late Nikola Jokic heroics. Despite erasing a fifteen-point half-time deficit the team couldn’t hold the Nuggets off in the final minute, falling 119-116 on a Jokic game-winner.
Markelle Fultz pulled the right strings early, drilling two mid-range jumpers and a three while also finding Paolo Banchero with a wonderful pass for a corner triple. His fast start allowed the Magic to jump out to a 13-7 advantage, a valuable stretch against a tough opponent.
A spate of missed jump shots by the Magic gave Denver an opportunity to counter, Jokic directing an 8-0 run that put the Nuggets back in front. Banchero briefly stemmed the tide with a pair of free-throws, but with Jokic pushing pace Denver immediately responded with a 7-0 burst. Some controlled aggression from Cole Anthony in the quarter’s closing minutes ultimately allowed Orlando to stay in touch, the period ending with Denver in front 31-25.
The Nuggets continued to hunt out transition opportunities in the second, turning misses and turnovers alike into chances in the open court. The Magic kept the scoreboard ticking over courtesy of contributions from Bol Bol and the Wagners, but defensive rebounding problems added to the team’s difficulties at the other end of the court. As a result Denver were able to steadily add to their lead, eventually pushing it to double-figures on an Aaron Gordon fastbreak slam.
bol bol bykeeee— Orlando Magic (@OrlandoMagic) January 16, 2023
the steal + the slam pic.twitter.com/YoHRkdkPRv
With the starters mostly checked back in, the two teams traded baskets until a late AG burst – 6 straight and 12 in the period for the former pinstriped player – brought a little extra separation for the home team. At the break the Magic found themselves in a fifteen-point hole, down 69-54 and facing a long road back in the second half.
Orlando was led by the double-digit contributions of Fultz (11 points on 4-5 shooting) and Banchero (10 points, 2-5 from the floor) as well as 22 total bench points. The team’s 17-19 mark from the free-throw line was largely responsible for keeping the margin as close as it was, with Denver otherwise walloping them in shooting accuracy: 62.2% (28-45) from the floor compared to just 40.0% (16-40) for the Magic, and a 40.0% (8-20) to 31.3% (5-16) advantage from deep.
Orlando opened the third with a clear intention to attack the paint, quickly seeing the benefit as they built an 11-4 run across the opening minutes. On three occasions the team sliced the margin to 8, a Gary Harris triple eventually bringing the Magic back within 5. It hovered around that mark for a few possessions until Denver started to turn the screws on the offensive glass, extending three consecutive possessions for a six-point spurt that pushed them back out by double-figures, 87-76.
Jalen Suggs had a steal and slam to create some momentum for the Magic, but a contested Jamal Murray three re-established Denver’s advantage. However, some free-throws in the closing stretch and an opportunistic finish by Franz as the quarter ended pulled Orlando within 6, trailing just 94-88 with twelve minutes to play.
The Magic made their first four field goals of the fourth quarter, the Wagner brothers combining to either score or assist on each of the baskets as Orlando drew back within two. A Bol three-point play chipped another point off the deficit, the forward adding dunks on the next two possessions to give the Magic their first lead since the opening quarter.
With 4:52 to play the score was tied at 106, big threes to both sides finding the bottom of the net in clutch sequences. When Gordon missed a pair of free-throws it gave Orlando a chance to create a small buffer, Banchero obliging by working Jokic in the paint and hitting two of his own from the charity stripe. It was 113-109 the Magic’s way, 2:21 remaining.
A Fultz turnover resulted in a three to Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, slicing the difference to a single point. Carter Jr. and Gordon traded dunks before a Franz Wagner runner rimmed out, putting the ball in Denver’s hands in the final minute. Active defense forced a Nugget’s timeout with 17.5 seconds remaining, but on the inbounds pass they again found AG in dunking position, a quick foul giving him another chance at the line that he this time converted for a Denver lead.
A deliberate foul then sent Fultz to the line, the point guard splitting the pair and knotting the score at 116. It gave Denver the final clean look, the ball going one last time to their superstar center. After scanning for options Jokic calmly used a backpedaling escape dribble to maneuver into a difficult step-back three, the rainbow release dropping through the net with 0.2 seconds left on the clock. The Magic couldn’t get their own shot off in time, ultimately falling 119-116 in the final game of their road trip.
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: Markelle Fultz— started out hot and closed the game well despite a couple of minor blemishes late (and limited fourth quarter chances – just three minutes). Finished with 20 points on 8-10 shooting to go along with 7 rebounds, 6 assists and a pair of steals.
Second star: Franz Wagner — 19 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists and a steal for the silky forward, who continued his more-than-solid recent play. Also drilled a pair of beautiful jumpers from the left corner courtesy of smart placement on the perimeter. His personal plus/minus of +21 – far and away the best on the team – speaks to his effectiveness.
Third star: Bol Bol — 17 points in 18 minutes made for a solid revenge game. The defense continues to be of some concern but his point-scoring splurge in the second half threatened to make the Magic a winner in the Mile High City.
Orlando catches a breather with the schedule now, with four consecutive nights off before a home game against the red-hot Pelicans. Be sure to join us here on Friday night for that one.