By Luke Sylvia
Friday’s 117-108 Orlando Magic victory came in the largest attendance in Magic history (19,587). I’m sure New York Knicks’ fans contributed to this, but thankfully, aside from a brief stint in the fourth quarter, there was not much that warranted cheering.
On a night without key bench pieces in Joe Ingles (ankle sprain), Gary Harris (calf strain), and Jonathan Isaac (hamstring strain), along with a late scratch from Wendell Carter Jr (knee tendinitis), it was the starters who answered the call.
I asked Coach Jamahl Mosley what he thinks led to the success Orlando's starters had.
"This is a team that is always going to do it by committee because they have trust and they have confidence in one another. They know that defensively we have to sit down and guard, and if you sit down and guard the right way, that's going to open fast break opportunities for everybody to get whatever looks they need, and (they will) trust that the pass is going to find you."
Magic starters accounted for 99 points while the bench only tallied 18. Coming into Friday’s game, the Magic bench averaged the second most points per game at 43.9 points (out of the team’s 112.9). Obviously, the lack of second unit scoring came from different personnel due to the injury bug, but it was nice to see the starters put the team on their back. Paolo Banchero (29 points), Jalen Suggs (21 points) and Franz Wagner (32 points) combined for 82 in their three-headed monster performance.
Franz scored 10 of his 32 points in the fourth as the Magic spent most of their time keeping the Knicks at arm's-length. It definitely should be noted that Wagner played the entirety of the final frame, leading to his 39 minutes logged.
The fourth quarter really started after a Julius Randle bucket cut the Magic lead to seven with 3:54 left in the game. Soon after, Knicks Immanuel Quickley sent Suggs to the line and Knicks’ fans came alive as he missed the front-end. Much like the entire game can be credited to, it was defense that won Orlando the game. With 3:20 left, Goga Bitadze had an incredible block on Jalen Brunson that would have narrowed the lead to just four points. On the other end, Bitadze capitalizes with a ferocious slam to extend the lead back to eight. The very next possession, Brunson was denied again, this time by Suggs, leading to Banchero free throws. The final minutes of the game was a parade to the line as Orlando attempted eight free throws.
Suggs was impressive down the stretch as he had two different "daggers," one of which being a mid-range jumper with 37 seconds left to give his guys the 113-106 lead; the other was an outlet dunk as the game winded down to effectively end the game.
How We Got There
The Magic opened the second half on a 13-5 run to give themselves a healthy 68-49 lead. The remainder of the third quarter consisted of the Knicks chipping away at the deficit. After the Knicks finally made a couple threes, they found themselves down 86-74 heading into the fourth.
For Orlando, the most valuable quarter of the game came in the second as they held New York to just 15 points, while adding 29 of their own. After his 7-10 shooting in the first, Orlando was able to hold Julius Randle to 1-4. Thankfully, for the Magic, Randle settled for threes on half those attempts, missing both. The Knicks went on to shoot 5-21 as a unit (23.8%) After just a two point first quarter, this is where Franz Wagner began his night as he poured in 13 points and three steals.
After the first quarter, the Knicks held to a 29-26 lead, thanks to Randle. The bright spot for the Magic in the first quarter was rookie guard Anthony Black. Black held future all-star Jalen Brunson to 1-4 from the field, including two air-balls. Brunson ended the game with 20 points on 4-15 shooting. He went a perfect 12-12 from the line, while only 8 points came from the field.
I also asked Coach Mosley about Anthony Black and his defense on Brunson.
He's a special individual who loves to sit down and play defense and guard the right way. I think he did a heck of a job on Jalen Brunson.
Additionally, both teams' 3-point shooting performances in the first were foreshadowing of what was to come as they combined for an abysmal 2-11 a quarter of the way through the game.
One Last Thing: Give It Up For Goga
One thing that might get overshadowed due to Banchero and Wagner's big night is Goga Bitadze. Who knows when he found out he was starting tonight since Carter Jr. was ruled out minutes before tip-off, but Bitadze is always ready, and it showed. He logged four points and two rebounds less than five minutes into the game. Bitadze finished the night with 13 points, seven rebounds (three on the offensive glass!!), two blocks, and a steal. Not to mention he was a game-high +16 +/-. I love that dude.
The Magic undoubtedly enjoyed their first win in Kia Center, but now, they'll ring in the new year out west. On Sunday, December 31st, it's a New Year's Eve matchup against the Phoenix Suns, followed by contests against the Golden State Warriors, Sacramento Kings, and Denver Nuggets before coming back home to host the Atlanta Hawks on January 7th, 2024.
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