The first half was so easy, providing a glimpse of a Magic team capable of scoring in bunches, moving the ball and working together. The defense was solid, if not spectacular, and able to build a big lead.
The second half was a slog-fest. A battle of wills that looks like a pure preseason game. Turnovers, fouls, poor spacing, some confusion on offense and miscommunication on defense. It is the second preseason game of the year, after all. No one can fault anybody for a little bit of that.
The end result was top overall pick Anthony Bennett putting the Cavaliers on his back during the fourth quarter for 14 of his 16 points in a 110-105 win at Amway Center on Friday. He hit six of his seven shots, making difficult mid-range fade-aways over Andrew Nicholson and spotting up from beyond the arc and showing the skills that made him the top overall pick in this year's Draft.
The Cavaliers erased an 18-point first half deficit and turned it into a game thanks to 25 second-half free throws. The Magic offense stalled a bit with Jacque Vaughn testing out new lineups and combinations. The easy scoring had dried up. The Cavaliers intensity ratcheted up and the Magic had to struggle through.
"I think it's the normal tides of game," Jacque Vaughn said. "I think they were a little more physical in the second half and bumped us off our cuts a little bit. I would say if we don't allow them to have 46 free throws, we'd be in pretty good shape also. That's a really aggressive and physical team. I talked about that before the game. That's a team, when even on the free throw line, Varejao is going in for rebounds, you don't have plays off."
Vaughn said the Magic were as detailed as they needed to be scheme-wise defensively. Orlando certainly appeared that way, giving up only 39.3 percent shooting from the floor. orlando also blocked nine shots, seven in the first half, with Tobias Harris, Kyle O'Quinn and Nikola Vucevic being especially active around the basket and in the paint.
Maurice Harkless had the block of the night when he closed out on Dion Waiters on the wing, forcing him to pass to the corner to Earl Clark. Harkless closed the gap and sent Clark's 3-point attempt into the stands. It was an impressive physical play.
Those plays and that energy was good to see from a first unit that struggled against the Pelicans on Wednesday. But that aggression turned itself around once the Cavaliers upped their intensity.
Cleveland struggled offensively with Kyrie Irving coasting (to 17 points), but turned it around behind Dion Waiters' patient and aggressive play — 21 points, 8-for-13 shooting — and behind that free throw shooting. Cleveland made 37 of 46 free throw attempts.
"They were a little more aggressive and we just started fouling a lot," Nikola Vucevic said. "We were late on some closeouts, we didn't run back on d every time. They got some easy buckets and we started fouling to stop those. We can't really do that. They didn't shoot well on the floor, we did a good job in that area, we just have to be more careful with the fouls."
Orlando did not help itself in committing 25 turnovers which turned into 28 Cleveland points, 16 turnovers coming in the second half when the Magic's spacing decreased and the execution became sloppy.
Some of this — both the fouls and the turnovers issue — certainly can be attributed to it still being the preseason.
"We're still in preseason mode, attack mode, battling. We got to shake that. They shot a lot of free throws in teh first half, a lot of easy points. That is something we have to do as a team, lower our fouls and move forward."
There was a lot to be happy about too though.
Victor Oladipo came in and made an immediate impact getting a putback slam early in his first run in the first quarter and then draining a 3-pointer on the next possession. His stat line continued to impress with him scoring 18 points on 7-for-13 shooting, grabbing eight rebounds and dishing out three assists. He showed a lot of energy on both ends of the floor and made a good show for his first home game at Amway Center.
Nikola Vucevic had 15 points and six rebounds and Arron Afflalo was very solid and efficient with 14 points on 5-for-6 shooting. Tobias Harris, Jason Maxiell and E'Twaun Moore each had seven points. Jameer Nelson added eight points and seven assists.
When things were really working in the first half, they were really working and teh Magic seemed poised to run away and hide a bit. That was not to be, of course, the fouling prevented that and kept the Cavaliers in the game and allowed them to chip at the lead as the Magic offense seemed to force things more and shots started to rattle out.
"Just finishing the games out. I think that is something obviously we did not do well last year," Vucevic said. "This preseason is going to be a good opportunity for us to do that. ON the defensive end, just keep staying consistent. I think we did a pretty good job defending in both games, we just have to quit fouling."
There is still a lot to work on and improve upon in the next six preseason games. There is a long way to go before Oct. 29 opener against the Pacers. There are plenty of things to learn from.