Rob Foldy/USA TODAY
The game started off with the same struggles that had plagued the Magic throughout the preseason — turnovers and fouls muddling things up and preventing the Magic from getting the scoring results they wanted. Orlando put the pressure on Detroit's thinned out back court — Brandon Jennings, Rodney Stuckey, Will Bynum and Chauncey Billup sall sat out — and reaped the rewards throughout the second quarter.
Orlando's full-court pressure brought the defense alive and show its potential moving forward this season.
The Magic, after giving up 27 points in the first quarter, gave up only 27 points in the second and third quarters combined, scoring 18 of their 20 fast break points in those two quarters and collecting 13 of their 16 steals in that span. It helped Orlando open up a 23-point lead and coast to a large margin into the fourth quarter.
The Magic held on for an 87-86 win at Amway Center on Sunday as the Pistons put in their starters against the Magic's bench players — an excuse Jacque Vaughn would not use, but we will here. Kyle O'Quinn's layup with 38 seconds left was the game-winner for the Magic.
In all, it was Orlando's best defensive performance of the preseason.
"It was great to see," Jacque Vaughn said. "They were pretty much under 40 percent the entire night. Nine points in the second 18 in the third that we gave up. Even though we didn't shoot the ball very well, it gave a chance to win the ball game. The deflections, the steals, the activity was great to see."
The Pistons shot just 41.7 percent from the floor and committed 26 turnovers that turned into 33 Magic points. Orlando pressured Peyton Siva, forced to play 47 minutes because of the depth issues, into nine turnovers and dictated the tempo of the game. This is what Vaughn said he wanted to see from the full-court pressure the team employed throughout the night.
Orlando's defense was active all night, as Vaughn said, and continued to let the defense roll. In a game where the Magic shot 46.2 percent from the floor and made only 4 of 15 3-pointers, it was good to see the team rally and find a way to grind out a large lead. Again, only a 15-point effort in the fourth quarter with the Magic's starters on the bench prevented the game from being the blowout it really was.
The major adjustment for Orlando came with the control in which it played defense.
For much of this preseason, it has been hard to gauge how good of a defensive team the Magic can be simply because they were sending players to the foul line at such an alarming rate. Jacque Vaughn spoke before the game on how the team needs to be smarter with the way they use their fouls and their physicality.
On the other hand, though, the Magic had their most physical practice of the season according to Vaughn on Saturday and it carried over into this game as the Magic allowed the Pistons to shoot 12 of their 25 free throw attempts in the first 12 minutes. That stopped suddenly and Orlando's defense became extremely stout.
"We had to turn off practice," Kyle O'Quinn said. "That was practice mode. We had a good one yesterday, it was real physical and competitive. We just had to turn it off, we were still in practice mode."
Vaughn has wanted his team to play with a bit more physicality and so the team likely gets more lenient whistling in practice. That does not always carry over to games and it took the Magic a while to adjsut from their very physical practice to the realities of this game.
When they did, Orlando found itself in control of the game.
E'Twaun Moore scored 14 points to lead five Magic players in double figures. Maurice Harkless scored 11 points and added four steals.
Tobias Harris scored 13 points on 5-for-7 shooting including making all three of his 3-pointers. Harris was playing his first game back from a two-game absence thanks to a sore ankle. Harris tweaked the ankle again in the end of the third quarter and briefly went to the court in pain. He walked off under his own power and Vaughn said he will be OK.
Harris said he will take his injury day by day and see how it feels moving forward. Harris though looked comfortable out on the perimeter as the other teammates picked him up.
The Magic got help from the Pistons being a bit shorthanded. And they still struggled dealing with the big front line of Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond. Drummond had 14 points and 15 rebounds along with two blocked shots. Monroe scored 19 points and added two blocks on his own. Both provided a presence in the paint for the Magic to deal with.
The Magic found a way around that and beat them down the court often for easy points. Orlando built its lead on its defense, a positive sign for the young team in its development.
"We showed early that when we're focused on the defensive end, we can really lock in," Harris said. "That's where our lead came in this game. That's where we were able to get in the open court and make plays. If we keep buying into that and keep playing that way, we'll be a hard team."
Whether the Magic can have that carry over to the regular season next week is another matter. Without Jameer Nelson or Nikola Vucevic in this game and then the key rotation players sitting in the fourth quarter, it is hard to tell whether the Magic would be able to finish this game properly and earn the win.
As it stands, Orlando got the measured physicality and defense it wanted against this tough Detroit front line and walked away with its second preseason victory.