Brace Hemmelgarn/USA TODAY
Through the first two games of the season, the Orlando Magic are learning just how important execution is. Even if it is mostly the veterans carrying the load late in the games or in the key moments, the lesson cannot be lost on the young players who were in the game, on the bench or on the sidelines coaching.
The Magic fought back from a 17-point first-half deficit, as they always seem to do. The Timberwolves could never quite put the Magic away. Orlando even took the lead late.
It was execution and out-coaching perhaps that put the Magic to bed in this one.
Kevin Love popped open for three behind a double flare screen as Solomon Jones struggled to get around Nikola Pekovic to contest. Love drained the three with 12 seconds left to tie the game. Arron Afflalo got the kind of fall away jumper he is comfortable with and missed it short.
Minnesota executed better in overtime, taking a four-point lead quickly. The Magic committed turnovers and took some hard fouls at wrong times as the Timberwolves held on for a 120-115 win in overtime at Target Center on Wednesday.
The players and coaches talked after the game about improving communication on defense and that this was a game Orlando should have found a way to win. Losing games on made shots are easier to swallow. Missed execution feels like you left something on the floor.
This felt like the latter as the Magic celebrated a bit as if they had the game won after Victor Oladipo sank two free throws to give the team a three-point lead.
And Orlando did plenty to deserve the win to that point.
After giving up 38 first-quarter points, the Magic defense really locked in and began to force turnovers and create offense for themselves. Orlando did not force a ton of turnovers (just 15) but did hold Minnesota to 42 percent shooting. The Wolves had several possessions where they took wild shots and missed the rim entirely. Orlando's defense looked impressive and spearheaded the team throughout the night.
It was not without faults. There was the rocky start and the ample amount of free throws. The defense though appears to have improved over last year.
Orlando continued to fight and fight. This is going to be a hallmark for the Magic once again. They remained relentless and fouth their way back again and again. Even if they never really could get over the hump until the closing stages of the game.
Arron Afflalo was big in the third quarter on his way to 28 points, nine rebounds and five assists. He made half of his 22 shots. Afflalo generally got his makes on attacks to the rim and by letting others set him up. Afflalo is a very effective spot shooter, as we suspected when Orlando acquired him.
Nikola Vucevic was solid in the post and in the pick and pop with 22 points and 16 rebounds. Jameer Nelson added 18 points and eight assists, finding the right time to pick his spots.
Ultimately though it came down to the team picking the right spots and making the right plays. In the overtime, the Magic could not buy a bucket and could not make the right plays. The Timberwolves could and did. That is the difference in the game.
That will be the difference in most games.
It is still early in the season, but there remains plenty of positive signs for the Magic and this youth movement. There remains also plenty to learn and plenty to improve upon. Even from the veteran players.