The Orlando Magic relied heavily on their defense yet again and stymied the Detroit Pistons at nearly every turn in scoring another road win on this trip.
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Andre Drummond can be a bit of a bully. Certainly for the Orlando Magic. He has put in big games, dominating the glass and pushing around the Magic’s bigs.
On two occasions, he was prepared to lay the hammer down on the Magic’s front line as he had seemingly done so many times. Only the immovable object was there to meet him. The tide had turned in this rivalry. And the suddenly confident Magic were bringing the lumber defensively and at the rim to the Pistons’ superstar.
Detroit was left scrambling, struggling to find its offense as the team’s win streak crumbled 98-92 at the Palace of Auburn Hills on Sunday.
Serge Ibaka recorded four big blocks, twice stuffing Drummond at the rim, to spearhead the Magic’s second-half defense that helped them maintain and build on an eight-point halftime lead. It was the defensive tone the Magic have always wanted. One that has quickly become their identity this season as they continue to climb the defensive rankings.
The defense became contagious. Or perhaps it freed Ibaka to have the confidence to go rim hunting as he did with four blocks on the game. Nikola Vucevic blocked a shot himself shortly after one of Ibaka’s rim stuffers.
It fed to the offense.
Orlando began to get everything working. The team moved the ball exceptionally well and made baskets — 53.2 percent of them — powering the team to an eventual victory.
The Magic looked shaky at the end again. They bungled a few possessions with some late turnovers, allowing the Pistons one last run to cut the 13-point lead down to five. Finally, Jeff Green hit a turnaround jumper to put the game fully and finally away.
Orlando never trailed in the second half, making an eight-point lead feel twice as large at times with the team’s smothering defense. In actuality, the Magic opened up as much as a 13-point lead, busting the game open finally in the fourth quarter.
Orlando continued its strong play on the road and imposed its will for a third win on this five-game road trip.
What more is there to say about Serge Ibaka. In the last few weeks of the season? He has become one of the most efficient and strongest players on the roster. Defensively, he is a stalwart, blowing up pick and rolls and protecting the rim. On offense, he has been making shots from the perimeter as adeptly as he is in the paint. He seemingly can score quietly, adding up points upon points.
And then he makes the explosive play. Like those two blocks at the rim on Andre Drummond. Or his chase-down block on Ish Smith in transition, that sent fans booing as he gave his thumbs-down celebration.
Ibaka had an impact on almost every facet of the game. He finished with 21 points on 9-for-11 shooting, seven rebounds, four blocks and four assists. He was patient and steady in every way. Ibaka has emerged as a key component for the Magic.
Evan Fournier is still getting used to his new role with the Orlando Magic. Really two-fold. He is the team’s leading scorer and still is relied on as the primary offensive option. That has taken some getting used to. As has his new role as a playmaker for the team. His assists are up and he has had to learn how to get his turnovers down.
The results remain mixed. But Fournier proved he can still make an impact even when he is not scoring. He made just one of his seven shots, a big 3-pointer midway through the fourth quarter, on his way to five points. He had only two assists against three turnovers.
Despite these mixed numbers, Fournier did help the Magic get the ball moving. He was able to get into the paint and cause the defense to collapse.
But Fournier got caught a few too many times too. He struggled to make the shots he did get, often forcing things. And defensively, Fournier was at times a step behind, especially early. That forced the back line to adjust and give up looks at the rim to make up for it. Fournier straightened things out and was critical at the end to secure the win.
A week ago when the Orlando Magic announced they were making a lineup change, Nikola Vucevic did not take it particularly well. He handled it professionally on the court, but everyone could tell that he was not too thrilled.
What he has done in the week since is to go out and play and play extremely well. Vucevic is posting starter-quality numbers while playing absolutely stellar defense. Sunday was no different. He scored 16 points and grabbed eight rebounds to anchor the Magic’s second unit. His play in the second quarter helped recapture the game and his play in the fourth quarter helped expand the lead.
Defensively, Vucevic continues to be a rock. That is still a bit amazing to write. But Orlando can depend on Vucevic to be in help side more often than not. It made his move to the bench bitter to swallow. Vucevic has shined since then.
Jeff Green is still the mixed bag the Orlando Magic knew they were getting when they signed him this offseason. Green can put together strings of good play and then take away from things.
Without doubt, Green hit one of those good stretches in the second quarter, where he scored the majority of his 14 points on 6-for-11 shooting. Green could spread the floor and hit 3-pointers and post up smaller players to set up a nice fadeaway. He got on a roll.
What happened in the fourth quarter in his second stint was the opposite. He got a little too reliant on that fadeaway and he started missing a lot of shots. He nearly lost a golden opportunity to put the game away with a bullet pass to Nikola Vucevic. Instead he decided to wait the clock and take his own shot. It went in and put the game away, capping off a strong statistical game for Green.
The Detroit Pistons came into the game after averaging more than 110 points per game in a three-game road trip. Back home, they had all the confidence. And early on, it looked like the Pistons were going to roll past the Magic’s defense. They were getting open shots and moving the ball well.
Then the Magic buckled down. Orlando challenged shots at the rim and dominated the game physically. All the while the Pistons could not corral the Magic.
Detroit got a good, albeit rusty, effort from Reggie Jackson. And there was a clear downgrade when Ish Smith entered the game. The Pistons never could establish a solid rhythm. They looked a little too comfortable after their big road trip and the Magic too kit to them.