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"Kia" Adjustments

ORLANDO, FL — Games 3 and 4 of Orlando's first-round series against the Cavaliers occurred the other night, where they avoided the possibility of staring at the barrel of a loaded shotgun. Instead, the team rallied to clinch a franchise-first — winning consecutive playoff games by 20+ points, tying the series at two games a piece. These events transpired nearly thirteen years on the dot from the day of Orlando's last home playoff win, a 101-76 Game 5 victory over the Atlanta Hawks in 2011. Brandon Bass Ferguson played 24 minutes. Gilbert Arenas was an important rotation piece. Hard times. Vibes in the dumpster, right next to the hope.

After some time, trading high-end talent in years past and adopting a multiyear tankathon, the Magic returned to the playoffs armed with first-time All-Star Paolo Banchero and a defensive guru named Jamahl Mosley. A reintroduction that came full circle when the team logged its first home playoff victory in a newly named arena, under the bright lights of an ascending young team.

The arena was expected to be loud after Paolo Banchero went on record calling out the fanbase to come fuel a team in hopes of tasting their first postseason win. But it wasn't just loud — deafening booms could be heard as the fans single-handedly uplifted a team that once again found themselves down early in both games.

"When we first went to the playoffs I remember against Toronto that was another crazy time. When DJ Augustin and Vucevic and all those guys were here. Magic [fans] always do a great job of showing out. Ever since Paolo [Banchero] got here and we kept moving forward and got better and better after the couple rough seasons — fans have been showing more and more support… they been through a lot" said Markelle Fultz.

Both games at the Kia Center followed a similar trend. Orlando would come out of the gates sluggish. Claw themselves out and never look back, using the momentum of the crowd to slam the door shut in Cleveland's face. Both budding stars; Franz Wagner and Paolo Banchero, took turns dropping 30+ point games in their first career playoff series in consecutive games — ensuring the series would return to the Kia Center for a Game 6.

"That’s what we do. That’s why our teammates look to us to lead the guys, we’re supposed to step up in the biggest games in the biggest moments. I don’t think either one of us felt it was an out-of-body experience” said Paolo Banchero.

After becoming the youngest player in NBA history to drop 30 points, 10 rebounds and 0 turnovers in a playoff game, Paolo Banchero drew an inordinate amount of the Cleveland defense’s attention, creating opportunities for others.

"He's finding ways to win" said Jamahl Mosley on the teams blowout win in Game 4 despite Banchero scoring under double digits. "Part of that is celebrating Franz going and enjoying that. He comes out in the second half and some of the passes he made were just part of baiting the defense as they're gonna shift to him"

Though the headlines tell the story of a young roster ahead of schedule, the key element to both games was Jamahl Mosley turning back to Wendell Carter Jr as the starting center.

"We need to make an adjustment. We're down 0-2" he said once the lineup change was officially announced.

Carter retained his role as the starting center in Game 3 after coming off the bench in three consecutive games, two of which were playoff games since suffering a back injury in Philadelphia.

Though his stats on paper don't look ravishing, his ability to spread the floor, box out, and be an offensive hub have been crucial in both games, neutralizing Jarrett Allen. When asked about it the big man admitted, "Whether I score two points or twenty points I’m gonna do everything I can to make sure they’re not getting as many second-chance opportunities”.

True to his word, that mindset was critical in the Game 4 win to even the series heading back to Cleveland. Orlando was getting killed in the first half on high pick-and-roll cuts from Jarrett Allen.

In the second half, Wendell Carter Jr course-corrected by shuffling his feet quicker, sacrificing rebounds, making eye contact with Allen and putting a body on him to ensure he wasn’t crashing the glass. The Cavalier big man went scoreless in the fourth quarter in what became a blowout and totaled only three made field goals in the second half.

"He's been huge for us. Obviously getting back in the starting lineup. I think that'll also help us a lot in this next game on the road, having [Wendell Carter Jr] in that starting lineup since the first two [games] he wasn't. His presence has been big" said Paolo Banchero.

Wendell Carter Jr's self-correction was the notable adjustment, but one that's been swept under the rug is the events and play-types that led to Franz Wagner's playoff career high in Game 4. Prior to his scoring outburst, Wagner had only scored a made basket on a total of five screens through Games 1, 2 and 3.

In Game 4, the third-year forward — who is in line to receive a massive extension this summer — 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 slithering between either twin tower to get to his spot.

Jamahl Mosley has not only tinkered with his rotations, but has made multiple schematic changes that have provided an added boost to an offense nearing the brink of collapse in Cleveland. Orlando has since 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.

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 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.

Despite it being Jamahl Mosley's first playoff series as a Head Coach, it hasn't been showcased as he continues operating as a veteran with years of experience under his belt. The defensive guru has accomplished a feat for the first time in five seasons, leading a stifling defense that has yet to allow over 100 points to their opponent in four consecutive playoff games.

Every made basket is an opportunity for another stop. Surrendered 3s equate to thrown-down arms. You'll rarely see him seated on the bench or with arms in his pockets. A made 3, and the arms are back up, folded at his rib cage. Sometimes Mosley is seen stroking his beard, and it’s hard to tell whether that’s self-soothing or self-loathing. He's loudest on defensive possessions, which has catered to so much of the team's success.

Watch this possession: His team has sealed the game. Any other coach is counting down the clock, prepping mental answers to postgame questions.

Jamahl Mosley on the other hand is trying to maintain his record. Below 100 points. He's on the sideline on his knees directing Franz Wagner through the incoming pick-and-roll to stay attached — resulting in a steal for Cole Anthony.

"The whole coaching staff did a great job putting a good game plan together. A switch-up from the first few games. You can tell the details that were changed. I give them a lot of credit for that. A lot of good calls, helping us to stay engaged, stay active... Mose deserves a lot of credit for putting together a great game-plan tonight as does everyone on our staff” said Jalen Suggs.

The momentum has shifted towards Orlando heading into a Game 5 that'll take place in Cleveland. The Magic, who have yet to win on the road in this series, know they’ll have to do it if they want to advance — in a harsher environment under harsher circumstances — for a shot at shocking the NBA world. Again. And so even in triumph, the team remains compelled by the same old grind.

“They don’t count any more than any other game,” Jamahl Mosley said after sauntering into the media scrum in a sweaty tracksuit.

"A series doesn't start until someone wins on the other team's home court.”

Will Orlando be the first?

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