The Orlando Magic found their energy in a sold-out Amway Center and raced past the Milwaukee Bucks behind a stellar offensive and defensive performance.
Frank Vogel has been preaching his team’s defense for the entire season. The Orlando Magic just have not been able to reel anything in on that end. And early on, it looked like much of the same.
And even as the game went on, things seemed to be shaky at times with odd switches and Jabari Parker shooting all over Serge Ibaka again. The game always had the sense it might slip away at any moment. The team might lose its cool and lose the lead late as it has done so often.
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The energy in the building was different though. And the Magic were different.
There might have been hiccups early, but Orlando stuck to its gameplan and slowly frustrated the Milwaukee Bucks into mistakes. They would be the ones who crumbled.
Bismack Biyombo came flying over to block Giannis Antetokounmpo at the rim. Then again after Antetokounmpo grabbed the rebound. There was Aaron Gordon moving deftly from Antetokounmpo for a streaking Jabari Parker, shutting him out in the fourth quarter to prevent any run. All while Jeff Green used his length and energy to stymie the first-time All Star.
The final nail in the coffin? Antetokounmpo losing the ball, complaining to the refs and then a few possessions later committing a charge on Gordon for his sixth and final foul with four minutes remaining.
By then the Magic had built a sizable cushion thanks to stellar ball movement off drive and dishes and coasted to an 112-96 win at the Amway Center on Friday night.
“It is just so much fun to play when the ball is moving,” Aaron Gordon said. “It doesn’t matter who gets the shot, just hit the open man, penetrate and kick. There was an energy tonight. We could feel it. We harnessed it offensively. We trusted each other.”
That energy was certainly lacking on the road trip. And it was the thing Jeff Green and several players called out publicly after the game.
The team needed to pick itself up and play with energy and togetherness to get any win and stem the tide. The Magic played with that steely determination.
The Bucks never made that big run. And after taking a 19-9 lead in the first quarter, they never had control of the game again. Not fully. Orlando put the clamps down and asserted itself.
Jeff Green is an easy punching bag for Orlando Magic fans. There were more than a few eye rolls when he seemed to be the one saying the team needed to come out angry and play a different style. His contributions have been spotty at best throughout the season for the team. His good games are rare.
But the Magic likely do not win Friday without Jeff Green. Green entered the game with the team down 10 points and went on the attack almost immediately. He changed the tenor and aggression of the game. And kept the Bucks on their toes. He scored 18 points on 6-for-13 shooting, adding seven rebounds.
His contributions were not just on the offensive end. He stepped up and helped slow down and frustrate Giannis Antetokounmpo at stages of this game. Green was a catalyst for the Magic’s strong togetherness throughout the game.
Aaron Gordon drew the full assignment on Giannis Atnetokounmpo and provided his typical energetic defense. It took him a while to get his footing against Antetokounmpo, but even then he made life hard for the first-time All Star.
Antetokounmpo finished with 17 points on 6-for-17 shooting. He had 14 rebounds and five assists too. But nothing came easy for him no matter who was guarding him. Gordon at one point ripped the ball out of Antetokounmpo’s hands and started a fast break with it. Antetokounmpo fouled out with four minutes to play.
Gordon held his own on the offensive end too. He scored 17 points on 7-for-16 shooting. He showed a nice array of jump stops, but could not get his 3-point shot to fall. But his offense was still largely inconsistent. But overall, Gordon played his role and kept his end of the bargain in stopping Antetokounmpo.
Elfrid Payton continues his tear on the scoring column and also his aggression attacking the basket and driving defenses crazy. Payton scored 20 points to go with six assists. He made all six of his free throws. With no shooting guard, Payton played a lot more minutes (37:29) and had to handle the point guard duties for most of the night.
It did not seem to matter. Payton was again aggressive attacking the paint and looking to score around the basket. He had a vicious one-handed slam on a putback in one instance and then deftly hit a floater in another. Then drained a 3-pointer in another. Payton had everything working.
He struggled some defensively, particularly early in the game, but quickly got his man under control. Payton was strong on both ends and has played some of his best and most consistent basketball of late.
C.J. Watson controversially picked up the start with both Jodie Meeks and Evan Fournier out. It has been hard at times to justify Watson’s play since he has struggled to shoot and generally look good on the floor. Defensively, Watson is sound. But he is a bit undersized. All of that was in play Friday night. But it generally did not hurt the Magic at all.
Watson finished with five points on 2-for-8 shooting. He had five rebounds and two assists, but four fouls. He was moving the ball well offensively and generally staying out of the way. He took a few bad shots and missed a few good ones. He was looking for gaps to cut into, but was largely a non-factor on that end.
Where he makes his hay is on defense. And Watson was again OK. Watson is rarely out of position and does his job. There were a few moments where he got some odd switches and had to guard post players like Giannis Antetokounmpo or Jabari Parker. He could do little to contest those shots. Watson did about what he could, which may not be enough against better opponents.
After the game, the Milwaukee Bucks apparently had a long team meeting. That is not a good sign for a promising young team that has been fading more and more of late. The Bucks took control early and seemed ready to race out to a decent performance. But that quickly was silenced as Jeff Green of all people provided a nice counterpunch.
Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 17 points and grabbed 14 rebounds. Jabari Parker scored 19 of his 25 points in the first half. Those were about the only two major offensive contributors for the Bucks. Malcolm Brogdon had 16 points and five assists.
Milwaukee struggled to contain Orlando on offense for much of the evening. And when the Bucks did they never made a push. Eventually the Magic’s defense consumed their attempts and they could not hit a shot. Milwaukee made just 40.5 percent of its shots including 18 of 39 in the paint. The Magic were the better team.