The Orlando Magic were unable to make it two in a row Thursday night as they dropped a contest that ended up finishing surprisingly close against the Memphis Grizzlies, 123-115.
The Grizzlies outscored the Magic 43-23 in the second quarter, and the current second-seed in the Western Conference used that margin to coast to a much closer victory when the final horn sounded. In fact, it was Orlando who outscored Memphis in the second half, 72-58.
Memphis, who ranks second in the NBA in total rebounding (first in offensive rebounding), enjoyed a 49-39 rebounding advantage over Orlando Thursday - including a couple of key offensive rebounds late in the fourth quarter to help preserve the win.
Ja Morant led all scorers with 32 points (13-21 FGA’s), 6 assists, and 5 rebounds. Jaren Jackson Jr. had a monster of a game as well, scoring 31 points (12-14 FGA’s) and grabbing 10 rebounds.
It was a ragged start by both teams to the begin the game, as the Magic and Grizzlies combined to misfire on 12 of the first 15 field goals attempted in the contest.
The rest of the opening quarter wasn’t a whole lot cleaner, as the Magic shot 33.0 percent from the field (8-24 FGA’s) and the Grizzlies 34.6 percent (9-26 FGA’s). Both teams were playing Thursday night on the second night of a back-to-back.
The Magic were guilty in the first half of something that a lot of young teams tend to struggle with, which is allowing missed opportunities (and missed shots) on offense to negatively affect their defensive effort and attention on the other end.
“You can say you hang your hat on the defensive end as many times as you want, but we have to continue to understand that when shots aren’t falling, you really have to do that,” Magic head coach Jamahl Mosley told reporters after the game, when asked about his team’s energy - especially in the first half. “You have to dig down, sit down and guard, and allow your defense to help create for your offense easy baskets (so you’re not having to chase them).”
The Grizzlies raced out to a 20-9 run to begin the second quarter, as the Magic hoisted away (and often settled for) shots from beyond the arc. Orlando made just 3 of the 20 three-point field goals they attempted in the first half against Memphis.
For Memphis, Jackson was dominant in the first half, scoring 18 of his 31 points prior to intermission (6-7 FGA’s, 2-2 3PTA’s, 4-5 FTA’s in the first half). Defensively, the fifth-year forward wreaked havoc in the painted area as well, swatting away three Orlando shot attempts within the first ten minutes of the game.
Down 22 points at intermission, the Magic showed a little bit of life to begin the third quarter, as Paolo Banchero knocked-down his first four field goal attempts of the second half - forcing Memphis to call timeout just three minutes into the quarter. The reigning Rookie of the Month scored 20 of his 30 points in the third.
20-point third quarter for the rook ⭐️— Orlando Magic (@OrlandoMagic) January 6, 2023
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The early third quarter timeout proved to be a good one, as Memphis scored 12 of the next 16 points to push their lead to 25 points.
Just when the game seemed to be slipping away from the Magic, they responded with a 14-6 mini-run to close out the third quarter, highlighted by consecutive left-wing three-point field goals coming from veteran Terrence Ross.
Orlando was able to use that momentum and carry it over to the fourth quarter. Franz Wagner, who missed Wednesday’s game while serving an NBA-mandated suspension, had only attempted two shots heading into the game’s final period. The second-year forward exploded in the fourth, scoring 19 of his 22 points across the final twelve minutes of the game. Wagner went 5 for 8 from the field in the fourth quarter, including two three-point field goals (and 7-8 FTA’s in the period).
Following a three-point field goal banked-in by rookie Caleb Houstan with 1:53 remaining, the Magic had the Grizzlies once significant lead cut-down to just two possessions. But that would be as close as the Magic would get, as Steven Adams snagged a crucial offensive rebound off a Tyus Jones miss with 1:33 left on the clock to provide Memphis with another possession.
“It was necessary for those guys to get going,” Mosley added after the game, when asked about Banchero and Wagner’s contributions in the second half. “Paolo got himself going in the third, and Franz in the fourth. But, obviously our guys stayed resilient, they got into the fight. It was a six-point game before that foul was called (on Wendell). So we gave ourselves a chance. You don’t like being in that scenario early, but (coming back) shows the fight and grit in our guys.”
Wendell Carter Jr. added 18 points (7-12 FGA’s) and 7 rebounds, while Ross scored 14 points in 18 minutes off Orlando’s bench.
The Magic will now take to the road for six of their next seven games, including a five-game road trip on the West Coast that will begin Saturday night against the Golden State Warriors.