"MAGIC"ians In The Clutch
By Fawzan Amer
Late in the fourth quarter, the game on the line. Moments dreamed about in childhood playgrounds as everything slows down, breathing intensifies, and adrenaline pumping can be heard as the imaginary game clock dwindles. Clutch buckets are launched. The Orlando Magic have witnessed this feat in five of their past six consecutive games, finishing with an overall 3-2 record. These clutch moments are magical, arriving in different forms. Sometimes coming from star players. Other times, role players are up to shine in the moment; however, the Orlando Magic have performed this feat by committee.
Last 5 Games (Per Game) Clutch Stats
13.0 PPG (5th)
Last 5 Games (Total) Clutch Stats
Total Clutch Pts
Total Clutch FG%
65 Pts (1st)
20/35 (57.1%) (4th)
10/16 (62.5%) (3rd)
Orlando’s brilliance in clutch situations has become an old hat, providing a sense of continuity that didn’t exist until late and one that can be carried forward into the following season. In these clutch moments the intensity picks up, and the game slows down, creating as close a taste to playoff basketball as we can get in the regular season for a team on the brink of their play-in hopes vanishing it has facilitated as a learning component. “The only way you’re going to learn, you have to go through it regardless of the outcome of the game you have to go through these situations. Down two, down three, up three, up four, whatever it looks like. We have to be able to show them on film so they can feel it in real-time. I think they’re getting that, so it's showing in the way we’re playing down the back end of these games,” said Magic Head Coach Jamahl Mosley post-game.
What might be more unequivocally impressive is Orlando’s focus late in games and refusal to quit, regardless of the circumstances being dealt from a 5-20 start as they have been befuddled by a plethora of injuries all season long to facing the deathblow of being mathematically eliminated soon. With countless late-game comebacks and insane efficiency recently in the clutch, the Magic have found themselves on top more often than anyone may have given them credit for with a young roster despite lacking veteran presences to guide them in late-game situations. “In these close games, they’re not getting rattled; they understand how we have to play coming down the stretch, getting stops first and then being able to get out and run and execute our offense,” Jamahl Mosley said when asked how the team has fared in five consecutive clutch performances.
Total Clutch Minutes
Total Clutch Points
Total Clutch FG%
Wendell Carter Jr
Markelle Fultz and Wendell Carter Jr have been the pinnacle in the clutch as they lead the team in total points scored in the clutch and rank in the top five most clutch points in the NBA during this stretch (2nd pair of teammates) in the top five. What makes this duo so special is how efficiently they have been scoring those points. Many players lose efficiency when the game is in the balance, but Fultz becomes uberly efficient. On the season, Markelle Fultz has a true shooting percentage of 67.8 percent. That number rises to 71.9 percent in clutch situations alongside an unreal usage percentage of 25.5%, the highest on the team. Wendell Carter Jr and Markelle Fultz, who were lottery draft picks, became castaways on the teams that drafted them. Fortunately, they’ve found success in this pick-and-roll tandem that has manufactured explosiveness and athleticism, which have become prerequisites to being useful in the clutch with lobs and other added wrinkles. In crunch time, when defenses tighten up and driving lanes disappear, the patient midrange specialist can take over.
Oftentimes late game in this consecutive five of six-game stretch, the Orlando Magic proceeded to play a two-man game action between Wendell Carter Jr and Markelle Fultz. Both have combined for 34 points on 58.8% shooting and 80% from the perimeter to go along with ten assists.
Box scores don’t factor in that clutch situations require more ATOs, SLOBs, BLOBs, and coaching game management. As the game clock dwindles to its final seconds to determine a team's fate, these situations become magnified. Throughout the game, coaching tactics and critical decisions after a dead ball help ease the difficulty onto star players in creating more accessible looks, having set play(s) for a three with seconds to spare? What about a play at the rim from either the sideline or the baseline? Who are your best passers, screeners, and shooters in these situations? Do you have a play that could work against a zone defense or a man when coming out of an ATO to avoid confusion?
The Orlando Magic were amongst the teams in the East that converted a severity of their plays into isolation basketball as the game weighed. Lately, Jamahl Mosley has added some variety to his offensive playbook down the stretch, calling set play(s) and adding wrinkles to his end-of-game scheme. Like any other aspect of a game, these basketball plays must be drilled, filmed, and talked about to draw up one of those clever plays for which he's gaining a reputation for. The team takes the floor, and carries out the plan, a symphony of creativity, talent, and execution.
Pick & Rolls
Pick & Pop
Jamahl Mosley’s execution of end-of-game plays has stemmed from adding his own personal wrinkles to the two-man game between Wendell Carter Jr and Markelle Fultz. With Markelle holding the reins, the Magic have presented a closing lineup of Wendell Carter Jr, Gary Harris Franz Wagner, Paolo Banchero, and even Cole Anthony against the New York Knicks. All are threats to score, which keeps opposing defenses from keying in on any one player.
In this scenario, down four with 1:39 remaining in regulation, the Magic ran “Empty Side Pop.” The pick-and-pop is a variation on the pick-and-roll implemented in Orlando’s offense that they have grown comfortable using down the stretch in this consecutive five-game clutch stretch. Wendell Carter Jr has established that he prefers to pop to the perimeter after setting a screen than to dive hard to the rim, but he’s looked willing to mix in more rolls with ball handlers. Gary Harris occupies the corner with three guys wide, and Devin Booker is in drop coverage weak-side, which allowed the Phoenix Suns to load the elbows to deny a roll to the basket. Wendell Carter Jr does an excellent job anticipating the defensive coverage deployed and pops to the perimeter for a triple.
This combination is not as effective or popular as the pick-and-roll. Still, Jamahl Mosley’s willingness to add it to his repertoire has given Wendell Carter Jr and the offense much more space to operate as opposed to the typical bigs being stashed away down low or in the dunker's spot. Contributing to the trend toward stretch power forwards and centers that can occasionally knock down the '3' and aren't always stuck in the paint. The main difference is that a defender is in the lane, so the center can’t roll to the post.
Orlando ran this set twice in the fourth quarter fooling the Knicks defense. On these possessions Wendell Carter Jr sets the screen on Grimes. Grimes becomes the trail man as Mitchell Robinson drops low to deter a shot in the paint by Markelle which allows Wendell Carter Jr to pop out to the perimeter and receive a behind-the-back bounce pass from Fultz to bury a triple to give Orlando a two-possession lead. It’s the center’s duty to read the defense and decide whether to roll down low or pop out to the perimeter. With Robinson so low into his drop coverage after the initial screen, Mitchell and Grimes have too much ground to cover to disrupt Carter’s long-range bomb effectively.
The role of big man Wendell Carter Jr for the Magic is similar to that of the Celtics, Kings, Nuggets, and Warriors. All those teams surround their big men facilitators with shooters in constant motion and cutting actions. Perimeter shooting from the frontcourt still comes at a premium. Still, this new center-centric approach to offense is proof in the pudding that it is no longer necessary to have frontcourt spacing as much as it’s vital to have a big man who can make quick decisions and find teammates making good cuts if the primary goal is to have a team executed offensive game plan that prioritizes off-ball movement on the wings. Jamahl Mosley’s usage of Wendell in different elements has played dividends to his inclination as an all-around player and is highlighted in this possession in the clutch.
Magic ran “Blind Pig'' down four with 3:54 remaining in regulation. Orlando’s usage of Blind Pig is a classic sequence designed to break pressure. The actions of this sequence resemble a backdoor step: the weak side wing flashes to the ball than the man at defensive balance cuts. Markelle is being denied a pass at the top of the perimeter. Fultz flashes on a backdoor cut inside to receive a pass from Wendell Carter Jr from the elbow, who finds him on the backdoor cut toward the hoop for a reverse layup against the much slower and small Chris Paul.
Though Jamahl Mosley and the Magic have done their part to install more set plays to break down opposing defenses, isolation usage hasn’t been a lost art for this team. While there is no perfect definition for what “clutch” is, it’s instructive to look at what happens in the last five minutes of a game when the score is within five points. In those moments, instead of running set plays that have the potential to get broken up and turn into an iso with less than ten seconds on the shot clock, teams like the Orlando Magic prefer to allow their best players to isolate.
Paolo Banchero leads the team in total isolation points (181) and points per possession (0.85) at a 14.6 frequency clip. Mosley has tasked the rookie sensation with closing games out, allowing him to pick his spots to close games.
One of the best ways to score against a locked-in defense is by getting to the free-throw line. The Magic have buried all fifteen of their free throws with the game hanging in the balance—and no one is better than Banchero at finding crafty ways to get there, with 33.3% of his clutch points in this five-game stretch being consumed from the charity stripe bulldozing defenders using his frame to draw whistles.
The rookie sensation's brilliance has become league-wide knowledge, with defenders attempting to deny him passes using blitzes and deploying double teams down the stretch opening up opportunities for teammates such as Cole Anthony in Thursday night's contest against the New York Knicks. Being inserted in the closing lineup with Franz Wagner out, Knicks defenders were caught draping all over Banchero using blitzes and other actions to deny him the ball. However, Cole Anthony made his presence felt, knocking down five of his eighteen points in “clutch minutes,” none more significant than this isolation ten-foot pull-up jump shot to extend the lead.
“Staying resilient down the stretch is very important for us as a young team; sometimes, including myself, we put our head down if we don’t make a shot down the stretch or missing assignments on defense. We’ve done a really good job moving on to the next play. We’ve been in a lot of close games this season, and recently, we’ve been doing a good job of moving on to the next play. I think that's a credit to everybody just stepping up mentally,” Wendell Carter Jr said after the Knicks game Thursday night.
Magic Clutch Advanced Stats
With seven games remaining in the season and Orlando’s play-in hopes drowning in quicksand after experiencing a rough stretch losing three consecutive games to start the month of March, the mentality is “try to finish strong and win every game, take it one game at a time” said Paolo Banchero.
The Magic will soon head into an offseason with their own pick currently slotted at number five and having the luxury of an additional lottery pick from the Chicago Bulls. Chicago owes their first-round pick to the Magic — unless they miss the playoffs and finish in the top four of the 2023 draft order as part of the trade for Vučević. There is still a lot to play for as tanking doesn’t seem to be an evident option for Orlando being that they are 27-23 in their last 50 games (10th best in the NBA), who have deployed multiple unique lineups in the backhand of this season to determine who is and is not going to hold a future rocking the Magic uniform. As the momentum grows, the future of what’s to come looks as good as their recent stretch of clutch performances.
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