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Magic vs Cavaliers, Game 1: Struggling to Convert and Invert


CLEVELAND — The first playoff game in four years, with most players on the roster making their postseason debut, the city of Orlando had an added "buzz" to it, eagerly awaiting tip-off Saturday afternoon. Accomplishing a feat they'd set for themselves prior to the season, there was no fear heading into Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse.

“I don’t think the moments too big. Not only for me for anybody. We been talking about it since before the season. You don’t talk about something you’re scared of doing" said Paolo Banchero in the anticipation leading up to Game 1.

However, the young nucleus of Orlando — in a new atmosphere — got punched in the mouth in the early stages of the game. Falling on the canvas face first as Cleveland jumped out to a torrid start cashing in their first five threes and converting seven of their first nine attempts from the field. Orlando eventually settled into their half-court defense allowing a combined 64 points through the course of the remaining 48 minutes after Cleveland opened with 33 points in the first quarter.

“It’s the first game,” Wendell Carter Jr said after holding their opponent to 97 points. “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. Holding a team under 100 is always a good defensive outing.”

The Magic's usual starting center, who has since been moved to the bench in place of Jonathan Isaac, wasn't wrong — the team did struggle offensively. The team was wearing out the rims in Game 1. With each player's strokes from deep falling short, the bricks stockpiled as they each took turns building vacation homes in Cleveland . Perhaps they took former Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah's infamous statement to heart when he said "I never heard of anyone say I'm going to Cleveland on vacation"

Frequently, the ball found itself hitting each part of the rim instead of smashing the metal ring to recreate the everlasting "swish" fans enjoy. There were wide-open above the break 3s missed, left and right corner 3s missed and uncontested 3s missed. They shot 21% from downtown, and although the outcome didn't cater to favorable results the "process was good" indicated Jamahl Mosley.

“Cleveland does a great job of packing the paint in,” Mosley said. “They do a great job of flying at shots. But a big portion of this is us continuing to be willing to step into those shots with confidence, which our team will continue to do.”

The Cavaliers, like other teams throughout the season, packed the paint, cutting off drives and daring the Magic to convert from long-range, which they didn't. In fact, Orlando missed six kick-out/spray-out threes.

Players didn't seem too worried about the result from Saturday afternoon though All-Star forward Paolo Banchero looked down at the box score on the table in front of him and said, “We shot 32 (percent) from the field, 21 from 3 and 60 from the line, and it still wasn’t ever over until the last two minutes.”

Banchero just logged one of the most impressive rookie campaigns in recent memory. Now in the playoffs, he might be getting even better. After carrying the Magic on offense during both his seasons, Banchero continued his otherworldly rise in his playoff debut -- tying the most points scored in a playoff debut with former Orlando Magic great Shaquille O'Neal. Despite his performance, the only "notable" tactical worry centered around the first-time All-Star.

In the regular season, the Magic successfully ran "Inverted Screens" for Paolo Banchero. In Game 1 yesterday the team generated zero points out of Paolo-led PnRs.

Both Bickerstaff and Mosley vacationed to Turks and Caicos Islands over the All-Star Break. Before the game, both coaches admitted to “picking each other's brains secretly”. With the regular inverted screens simply not correlating into baskets, Jamahl Mosley didn't abandon the play. Instead, he cleverly started running the play out of different formations he hadn't run against Bickerstaff throughout the regular season: "Inverted Horns"

Orlando ran the Inverted Horns play twice — both for Paolo Banchero midway through the second quarter. 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 the coach remained desperate to find a spark.

When a coach makes a brilliant, calculated gamble or keenly alters his team’s tactics on the fly, it’s not a moment of virtuosity taking place. It’s a product of tapping into years of scenarios he’s already come across. Instead of allowing a few failed execution attempts and throwing away his game-plan, Mosley adjusted the Inverted Horns look to begin the second half. The guard screeners were stationed near the three-point line as opposed to the free-throw line extended — the newfound adjustment in the third quarter led to a good rim run from Banchero that led to free throws — but a turnover on the next possession.

For adjustments that do involve a specific player, Mosley says the challenge is finding a balance between trying to play to his strengths while also attacking an opponent’s weaknesses.

“Obviously, we need to hit shots to win this series,” Wagner said. “But I’m confident we’ll make them next game.”

The team, despite the loss and offensive woes, remained unfazed and confident with Paolo Banchero adding "I don’t think anybody’s scared of them or the game or the moment. So we just gotta be ready for Game 2. I think it’s gonna be fun."

It’s difficult to imagine the Magic faring any worse, and that’s a reason for them to be optimistic, though the team remains fixated on the positives behind holding the Cavaliers to under 100 points, there do lay some fatal flaws that require cleaning up prior to Game 2.

As stout as Orlando has been defensively this season, they have struggled to contain Donovan Mitchell, who exploded for a game-high 30 points. Funny enough, Bickerstaff utilized the same Double Drag concept against Mosley to allow his star to torch his friend's defense — this time with a twist. Unlike the regular season where Mitchell went around both screeners or rejected, Cleveland started "slipping" the second screener (Jarrett Allen).

After burying an 18-foot pull-up jumper off the set, Bickerstaff called for Mitchell to go back to it from the sideline on the following possession. Donovan doesn't go around both angular screens like the play is designed to, however, with Suggs expecting it. Mitchell leverages his aggressive coverage to spin off him — blasting past Banchero on the drive causing Isaac to provide rim support. The result is a thunderous slam from Jarrett Allen who slips instead of being the stationary screener like the previous play.

The star guard in Cleveland accounted for a total of six points off their Double Drag slip but it should remain an area of focus for Jamahl Mosley and crew, not letting it fester into added comfort in Game 2.

“There’s a lot that we could have done better to make this a better game for us,” Banchero said. “So, going into Game 2, you just clean up on those things and come in with a little more confidence, and we’ll be good.”

Perhaps the 21-year-old star is right, but Orlando has been looking for someone to lighten Banchero and Wagner's offensive burden all season. Whether this performance from the supporting cast was an aberration or the new normal will determine the Magic's hopes of advancing past Cleveland in the first round.

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