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Magic vs Cavaliers, Game 2: Same Script, Different Movie

CLEVELAND — After dropping a pair of games on the road to the Cavaliers, the rims at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse earn a well deserved vacation, in hopes of never seeing Orlando back for a potential game five. The Magic’s current weaknesses, a combination of inexperience, lack of spacing and playmaking, have been exposed in what's become an eye-sore of an offense to watch through two games. Multiple players were adamant following an abysmal shooting night in Game 1 that the worst days were behind them.

“It’s the first game,” Wendell Carter Jr said after Game 1. “We don’t want to overreact to anything. The first game on the road, we got to see what kind of game they want to play. I think we’re good. I thought we did really good defensively. I think offensively we struggled.”

Unfortunately, Game 1 was just the "rising action" of the nightmarish shooting woes that would soon ensue in Game 2. Watching the opening minutes of Game 2 felt like deja vu.

In both games, Donovan Mitchell dribbled up the floor and banged home a trifecta from identical locations on the court, both times igniting his home crowd.

Orlando opened the game 5-for-17 from the field, missing their first seven shots from downtown, ending the first quarter down 30-18. Though the first quarter score doesn't vindicate the dominance their defense displayed through the remainder of the game -- it's mostly due to a moment that appeared to deflate the team.

Jalen Suggs suffered a left knee strain with 4:02 remaining in the first quarter. Nearly the entire benched cleared with teammates swarming him while he appeared to be in visible pain on the floor as athletic trainers examined him. A teary eyed Suggs, unknowing of his season's future, had to be helped off the court.

“It takes it out of our guys a little bit knowing our head of the snake of our defense on that ball goes down. You do not want anything to happen,” said Jamahl Mosley after his team allowed a 14-5 run following the injury. He added that the "team continued to fight". Orlando outscored the Cavaliers from the second quarter to the final buzzer 68-66. A ten-point loss was due to the team allowing 30 points in the first quarter — Magic have now lost thirteen of their last fifteen first quarters. After tallying under 90 points in both games, serious changes must be taken into consideration for Orlando to remain afloat in this series.

Bench Jonathan Isaac

Isaac was named the starting center for the start of the playoffs as Jamahl Mosley pivoted to him following his monster performance in the final game of the regular season vs. Bucks, clinching a playoff spot for Orlando. The team also went undefeated (2-0) against Cleveland in the regular season when the forward turned center played.

That regular season success hasn't yielded the same results however. During the course of his two games on the road, the former sixth overall pick is shooting 26.7 percent from the field and 27 percent from long-range. Cleveland's primary defender on Isaac (Jarrett Allen) is leaving him open on the perimeter. The Magic are running a pin-down for Franz Wagner, which he's forced to curl when Max Strus goes over the screen. On his way to the cup, Isaac is met with Jarrett Allen at the rim as a deterrent.

In Game 2, Jamahl Mosley threw multiple offensive wrinkles to counteract Jarrett Allen funneling to the rim. To close the second-quarter, he called for Paolo Banchero to run the teams "Elbow" set. Orlando's elbow series always starts from a box set with Banchero on the blocks. On the entry pass however Max Strus denies the pass. Unable to get the ball to Paolo, Franz is forced to backdown with Jarrett Allen once again leaving Isaac in the corner. Though the play resulted in a trip to the charity stripe, a frustrated Jamahl Mosley remained desperate for answers to mitigate the rim pressure.

Coming out of the half, Jamahl Mosley made an adjustment to utilize Isaac as a screener in the teams "Wide Stack" set. The result was Wagner getting swatted at the rim. It came to a point where the third-year head coach had seen enough of Jonathan Isaac for the night, pulling him a few possessions later. Isaac did not return to the game for the remainder of the night -- sitting the final 17:36 minutes.

The Cavs have won the rebounding battle, 102-81. Cleveland's starting big-man, Jarrett Allen, has 38 boards alone, while the Magic starting five have combined for 49. With Allen on the court, Cleveland has outscored the Magic by 13.3 points per 100 possessions. He has dominated inside, rendering defensive ace Jonathan Isaac unplayable. “It’s very satisfying,” Allen said.

The remainder of Orlando's offensive adjustments are quite simple as Paolo Banchero alluded to in frustration during his postgame interview. “You gotta make shots. Just [the] name of the game” he said. Last night, the Magic shot 6 for 21 (29%) on wide-open threes, with the closest defender at least 6 feet away, per NBA's tracking data. They went 3 for 13 (23%) on open threes, with the closest defender 4-6 feet away. “We’re not scoring enough,” Franz Wagner said. “I thought, again, we got good looks from 3. But yeah, only 9-for-35. Only 83 points.”

Defensively, despite the Magic having held Cleveland under 100 points in both games, there remain glaring flaws that have become fatal, single-handedly ruining any run the team goes on. Cavaliers have mercilessly targeted their weakest defenders: Joe Ingles, Cole Anthony, and Paolo Banchero, netting them easy baskets time and time again.

(Video edit: Tony_Pesta via X/Twitter)

The team is hoping Kia Center will be the "key" that swings the pendulum back in their direction, in hopes of returning back to Cleveland for a potential game five in an effort to avoid a sweep. Orlando recorded multiple top five attendance records this season, compiling the league’s sixth-best home record during the regular season, going 29-12. in that span.

First time All-Star Paolo Banchero called out his fanbase to help lunge the team back into the drivers seat. “We’re going to need them,” Banchero said. “I mean, just seeing how much the fans lift them guys up being here playing those two games, they feed off it. It helps you make shots, helps you make plays, helps you give that extra effort. So, we’re definitely going to need the fans.”

Have you ever heard the saying "a playoff series doesn't truly start until the home team loses?" In Orlando's case, the home team losing game three or four wouldn't feel like the start of this series. It would feel more like the one that ended before it even began.

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