The Orlando Magic jumped to a 21-0 start to beat the Miami Heat in Summer League. But their defensive energy is a clue to how their main roster will play.
The two points had little significance to the result of the game, that seemed decided long ago. But with the league awarding points in the standings for quarter wins, Jonathan Isaac’s shot had some heavy significance. It ensured the Magic would walk away with the win (four points) and two wins in the quarter.
It was technically Isaac’s first buzzer beater.
The highlight reels will not show the work Isaac put in on the other end. The deflections and presence he has on that end. How he switched seamlessly from the 6-foot-8 Okaro White to the 6-foot-2 London Perrantes and it did not matter. As Perrantes tried to work around Isaac, he swatted his fadeaway jumper to safety, grabbed it and started a fast break.
This is the play that defines Jonathan Isaac’s game and the Magic’s effort Sunday.
"“I take pride in that, being able to switch wings and guard guys that are maybe faster than me and quicker than me,” Isaac said after Sunday’s game. “I love the energy it take sand the toughness it takes to really get down and play defense.”"
Isaac looked a lot more comfortable on the floor and posted a solid double-double of 15 points and 13 rebounds, with five offensive rebounds and 7-for-12 shooting. He showed a lot more of what made him the sixth overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft in this second outing.
But his highlight plays were not the reason the Magic won their first Summer League game 81-68 on Sunday.
The reason the Magic won — the reason the Magic will win games in the 2018 season — was likely seen in the play in draftmate Wesley Iwundu. The play that defined the game for the Magic came as Wesley Iwundu recovered to block a layup off the backcourt, ignite a fastbreak for Derrick Walton Jr. that ended with Walton threading a pass to Iwundu for a dunk.
That dunk came on the heels of the Magic going on a 21-0 run to start the game. They took full command of the game.
The Magic built their win Sunday on the back of their defense, the anchor the Magic hope can lead to success in the fall.
"“We went on a 21-0 run, it all started with the defense,” Iwundu told Orlando Magic Daily. “The first group brought it and the second group came in and kept it up. I just think the key to winning these games is you have to get it on defense. I thought the team as a whole did a great job of that.”"
It is evident this team has that Frank Vogel style of defense in it. The Magic switch constantly on the perimeter, burying their opponents in a barrage of noise, length and athleticism at all times. When the group really clicks, it makes it hard for teams to penetrate against them.
Patricio Garino, Marcus Georges-Hunt and Jonathan Isaac all have good length and defensive instincts for their size and perfectly suffocate ball handlers at the top of the key. Adding in power forward Jalen Jones along with Wesley Iwundu only furthers the way the team can close down perimeter attacks.
The bigs do their part too. Matt Costello recorded three blocks as the starting center. He was able to hedge out and guard some on the perimeter but also recover and protect the rim. Stephen Zimmerman did his part there too when he played.
Things loosened up a bit as the Miami Heat climbed to within five points of the Magic in the third quarter. But Orlando when it got focused and intense shut down Miami. The Heat shot just 29.9 percent from the floor. The only thing keeping them afloat was the 28 free throws the Magic gave up, a staple of sloppy Summer League ball.
At plenty of times, the Magic’s half-court defense looked far from sloppy. It looked downright devastating. It continued the Magic’s strong defensive performance from the end of Saturday’s loss to the Indiana Pacers.
"“I thought they got a little bit of confidence getting themselves back into the game,” Magic coach Chad Forcier said. “I think they came today feeling they are a real team and they are a good team. If they repeated what they did yesterday and cleaned up a few different areas, we might have some different results.”"
Forcier said before Summer League began his focus with his team was for them to play hard on the defensive end and play for each other. Those two things typically go hand in hand for a successful team. It is hard to get a team playing with that much chemistry in a Summer League setting with so little time to practice together.
The Magic have done that, for the most part.
It is a preview for what the team wants to be when it comes together in September for training camp. Vogel will still preach building a team that is defensive-minded and looking to get stops to create offensive opportunities. His teams have always had length athletically to switch and smother teams.
Orlando wanted to build a similar team last year. The league had changed dramatically though and two bigs did not quite work as well. With Aaron Gordon and Jonathan Isaac potentially pairing together, that strategy figures to receive a second look.
"“That’s one thing coach Chad said on the first day,” Marcus Georges-Hunt told Orlando Magic Daily. “He said if we don’t do nothing else on offense, we start with defense. The toughness and the grit he told us we have to play with, that’s what we played with in all the practices that we had leading up to Summer League. Going in with that mindset that I’m out out-physicalling a guy and getting into him, we have to have that same mentality the whole game. It all rubbed off on us.”"
Summer League is nowhere near the intensity or level of a regular season game. It is rarely an indicator of what will happen when the games count for real. The Magic’s Summer League roster hardly resembles the roster that will take the floor to start next season.
But the Magic’s strong defensive play Sunday previews the things the team wants to accomplish next year. If the Magic are beginning to build that identity, players like Isaac, Iwundu and Georges-Hunt could point to how they played in these games as the foundation.