The Magic had things relatively easy in their first two games. At least from a physical standpoint.
The Sixers and Rockets work from the outside in with guards dominating play. Nerlens Noel is not quite a bruiser at his health and ability level. Not like Jarnell Stokes or Jack Cooley. The Grizzlies are a different monster.
The Magic are trying to build a defensive identity starting with their Summer League team. The Grizzlies have their identity of Grit ‘n’ Grind and have already seen that filter down to the Summer League roster. It has become their being. That was made clear as the Grizzlies stifled the Magic’s offense and forced the game to grind to an uneasy halt.
Orlando failed to find a rhythm after a strong first quarter as Memphis imposed its will in a 80-73 win at Amway Center in the Southwest Airlines Orlando Pro Summer League.
It was hard for the Magic to put their finger on what went wrong, except the Grizzlies just did things better.
“Continuing to run my team, continuing to play defense at a high level and continuing to grow as a point guard. Cut down on my turnover,s maybe take a shot instead of trying to force a pass.
“I think we kind of settled for jump shots,” Elfrid Payton said. “It goes back to them being on offense. They had some great offensive possessions where they got a lot of offensive rebounds and put backs and they got to the free throw line a lot. It stopped our transition and stopped the easy buckets that get the flow of the offense going.”
That sounds familiar for a Memphis team.
The Grizzlies shot a similar 42.2 percent from the floor — the Magic were at 42.3 percent — but collected 13 offensive rebounds. There was at least one possession where the Magic got a defensive stop and then gave up two offensive rebounds in a row. That was a long defensive possession. And with a bull like Grizzlies second round pick Jarnell Stokes underneath (11 points, 12 rebounds), that made things tough to contain.
After a strong first quarter when the Magic were able to get out on the break — specifically Payton — they were unable to find their rhythm again, succumbing to the choppy play the Grizzlies seem to enjoy at all levels.
Victor Oladipo, playing his second game of the week, struggled to find his range and rhythm. He scored 11 points on 4-for-12 shooting. The Grizzlies did a good job forcing him into their traps and keeping him out of the paint. The shots he did get just would not foul and there was nothing easy for Orlando.
“We just couldn’t hit shots today,” Oladipo said. “It will be like that some nights just like in the NBA. It’s the game of basketball. It seemed like we couldn’t get into our sets today, for getting plays, making little mental mistakes. We’ve just got to continue to get better.”
Orlando’s high scorer was Dewayne Dedmon who had 13 points on 3-for-4 shooting. He was active around the basket, sometimes to a fault. He did commit seven fouls after all. He and Vernon Macklin were active blocking shots and protecting the rim (again with lots of fouling in the process).
The Magic’s defense though was not nearly as crisp. They were a little over aggressive and had no one really to handle the interior on a consistent basis.
Again, there just was not a rhythm to find in this one.
“It might have been the physicality,” Aaron Gordon said. “I think we didn’t quite stick to what we wanted to do as a gameplan. On to the next. Sometimes it happens like that. We weren’t making all the correct shots and we weren’t imposing our will on defense. That’s a recipe for a loss.”
Maybe there is a lesson to learn. Maybe there is not. Orlando is certainly still defining its identity. And the team certainly received a blow having to play Aaron Gordon at the four with the sudden flare up of Romero Osby’s shoulder that held him out of the game. The Magic just could not get the ball moving and were knocked completely out of this game.
The Magic have to continue to find the few bright spots in a physical game like this. Elfrid Payton had his moments attacking the basket. The team did not play an awful defensive game by any stretch. It just was not all together and crisp as it was the last time. Gordon was right, the Grizzlies imposed their will on the game more than the Magic could.
“Everybody here is a smart enough basketball player on this team where they know the lesson,” Gordon said. “It’s rhetorical for them to even say anything. We know exactly what we did wrong or it’s innate in ourselves what we need to do right the next game.”
It was a bad recipe indeed.