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Jamahl Mosley Took Orlando As Far As They Could Go


Throughout his first playoff series as Head Coach, Jamahl Mosley pressed all the right buttons in the playoffs to get his team within the final few minutes of a second round berth to face the Boston Celtics. Unfortunately the defensive guru — whose team held Cleveland to under 100 points five times in a series that went the distance — couldn’t push them over the top. Mosley, one of the more vocal coaches throughout the league, lost his voice, failing to call more than one timeout in the third quarter; watching in silence from the sidelines as the Cavaliers stormed their way back to trim a once eighteen point deficit. A series that debuted multiple ascending young players on the blue and white ended with a bitter taste. But Jamahl Mosley remained "proud" of his group.


"So proud of these young men in the way in which they played, they battled all year.” Mosley said. No matter what the circumstances where these guys have continued to stay together. Continued to fight, continued to pull for one another — I know it sucks right now, it really does, but I can't say how proud of this group I am and our staff is."


The same sense of pride should be reflected onto Jamahl Mosley who surpassed multiple Magic coaches through his first playoff series, now sitting in sole possession of fourth all-time in playoff wins for the franchise. The 45 year old Milwaukee native coaching across from his good friend JB Bickerstaff tinkered effortlessly to ensure victory for his squad enduring their first playoff taste.


Adjustment 1: Benching Wendell Carter Jr


Mosley benched Wendell Carter Jr, who was the starting big man for Orlando throughout the season — when healthy, for Jonathan Isaac. Jamahl Mosley pivoted to him full-time following his monster performance vs. the Bucks which helped clinch the Magic a spot in the playoffs, avoiding the play-in. Orlando went undefeated against Cleveland in the regular season when Isaac played -- a lineup change constructed to improve Orlando on both ends of the floor. It replaced a big struggling to match physical centers with one of its best rim protectors.


Their new starting lineup featured a pair of 3-and-D wings—Suggs, and Gary Harris —around their two superstars, Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner with the Minister of Defense manning the middle. There was nowhere for the Cavaliers to attack defensively. Orlando's offense was another story. In the regular season, the Magic successfully ran "Inverted Screens" for Paolo Banchero, however in Game 1 the team generated zero points out of Paolo-led PnRs.





Adjustment 2: Inverted Horns


An offense predicated on moving the ball and probing until they find a weakness, the rookie head coach experiencing his feet to the fire for the first time in the playoffs didn't abandon the play. Instead, he cleverly started running the play out of different formations he hadn't run against Cleveland throughout the regular season in an attempt to outmaneuver Bickerstaff.


Orlando ran their Inverted Horns play four times — all for Paolo Banchero. Despite it being the first time run vs. Cleveland all season, it ultimately did not cater to offensive success on a night the team and coach remained desperate to find a spark.





"Sometimes they have a big on [Banchero], sometimes they have a small on him. If they have a small on him, depending on who's setting [that screen], you're trying to chase that matchup the whole time. And then you talk about the offense being stagnant because you're trying to chase the matchup vs just the flow of the game," said Jamahl Mosley on both his inverted actions gong up in smoke.


Orlando was just running around in a lifeless despair of circles when their main action wasn't garnering results, taking bad shots and turning the ball over, which led to them staring at an 0-2 series deficit heading back to the O.


Adjustment 3: Benching Jonathan Isaac


Orlando was down 0-2 when Mosley inserted Wendell Carter Jr back into the starting lineup, playing hot potato with his bigs in an attempt to find light before the end of the tunnel. Luckily, it didn't appear they were a game late or a dollar short. The lineup change instantly improved Orlando on both ends of the floor. It replaced a struggling perimeter shooting big with one of its best, while adding additional floor spacing and maintaining the luxury of having size. There were glaring holes exploited in this series. Isaac struggled guarding faster guards with another gear to their acceleration. All the actions he was involved with on the perimeter, and couldn’t make up for it on offense with Jarrett Allen funneling shots at the rim.



Though the shifting of starting centers drew the most attention it overshadowed other wrinkles made by the coaching staff which played just as big a factor in turning the tide in the series. With their backs against an 0-2 series wall and toiling for answers offensively, it felt like an offense at the verge of eternal doom — or at the very least, nothing new to offer. The disadvantage of showing your cards early in a series is that once they are seemingly solved, panic often ensues, which lead to identities being lost.


Adjustment 4: Bring screeners closer to half-court


Jamahl Mosley not only tinkered with his rotations, but made multiple schematic changes that provided an added boost to an offense that tallied a pair of 100+ point games, including scoring 30 or more points in four of the eight quarters in both games 3 and 4. What was the wrinkle? The Magic brought their screeners for Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner up close to half-court, causing Cleveland to defend in a lot of space and get downhill off those screens.


In fact, Franz Wagner's scoring outburst in Game 4 was indicative of that very wrinkle after receiving a total of five screens through the first three games. In Game 4, the third-year forward made 13 field goals and 8 off screens. His brother Moritz Wagner led the way screening four times. A small adjustment paved the way to an incredible night, unleashing Wagner's easier runways to attack the basket going downhill.





The usage of the screening wrinkle didn't stop there, instead it expanded in different forms and variations unbeknownst to the naked eye. The Magic manipulated a scheme they ran for Franz Wagner in Game 1 and Game 3 called Horns V (A half-court set in which Paolo Banchero and another guard set ball screens on both sides of the ball-handler with Banchero rolling and the other guard popping).




The following play resulted in a made field goal both times Orlando ran it for Franz Wagner during this series. The play was uniquely altered in Game 4. Watch each Cleveland defender shift their feet to face Wagner immediately recognizing the designed play from film sessions. This time instead of the traditional look, Orlando runs Horns Spain Flare. Off the flare screen, Jalen Suggs draws a mismatch with Evan Mobley in isolation, stopping on a dime for a free-throw line extended jumper.





The screening wrinkle became so effective after suffering consecutive losses to Orlando in Game 3 and 4 of the first round, the most lopsided point differential in a playoff loss in team history, multiple Cavaliers players took note of the brilliance displayed, openly praising the adjustments Magic coach Jamahl Mosley made.


“You could tell that (Magic head coach) Jamahl Mosley did an excellent job planning for this game,” Cavaliers big man Jarrett Allen said. “There’s times when I was just in the corner, I stood in the corner last game, but, just overall, you could see tiny differences that accumulate into a lot.”


Adjustment 5: Clearing Out for Paolo Banchero


For a guy who has been knocked for not making adjustments throughout the season, Mosley made a bunch in these playoffs, including ones in-game. Watching his first-time All-Star cooking on a hot stove in Game 5, where the basket looked as large as the ocean to him, Jamahl Mosley handed his superstar the reigns. Orlando made an emphasis clearing out for Paolo Banchero in the second half — allowing him an entire side of the floor to work against defenders in isolation while also mitigating the opportunity for Cleveland to send doubles.




When it comes to evaluating coaches, so much of the debate seems subjective and narrative-based. For whatever reason — the fatigue of having the same coach, a general misunderstanding of what a coach does or does not do well, or just simply the reflexive anti-everything ethos that creeps into so many fandoms across the NBA. It’s easy to blame the coach when things go wrong, and there are plenty of circumstances when that’s warranted—though identifying it isn’t always simple. But one thing is true. Jamahl Mosley's final real adjustment/wrinkle would come in Game 5.


Final Adjustment: Jalen Suggs ball-handler in Horns set


Mosley added slight unique shifts to create advantages for his offense throughout the entire series. In Game 5, being that Orlando ran their “Horns” set with Jalen Suggs as the ball-handler for the first time all season instead of it being the likes of Banchero or Wagner. This time screening at the elbows instead.




A common adage when it comes to seven-game playoff series is that there comes a point where adjustments cease to matter; where execution, talent and will take over. That is exactly what occurred in Game 7. Mosley, one of the most vocal coaches across the league, watched quietly as his team's lead trickled down. He stood on the sideline, pockets emptied from the countless adjustments made throughout the series to force a Game 7. One timeout in the third quarter despite being outscored 33-15.


Coaches can only control so much. The ball can bounce a certain way. Heck, the ball can bounce on the rim four times! Opponents can make heroic plays that ruin the perfect plan. What does remain true is Mosley showcasing the ability to create advantages with adjustments in the postseason, which could become the secret sauce of a pending juggernaut recipe brewing in Orlando.


Follow Fawzan Amer on Twitter


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