The Orlando Magic had to scratch and claw defensively to get back to .500, defeating the Cleveland Cavaliers on a grind-it-out game.
The Orlando Magic were finding it difficult to scratch out points. The Cleveland Cavaliers were blitzing and trapping and pushing the Orlando Magic out of their spots and out of their rhythm. When the Magic did get turnovers and get out in transition, they struggled to finish around the rim uncharacteristically.
A game that looked like it might be one the team could cruise to victory, suddenly became a drag-out fight. The Magic had to grind every point. They took a late three-point lead and held on for dear life, blocking three shots in the final minute, including a late swat from Aaron Gordon and Khem Birch on a layup that would have cut the lead to one.
Orlando still needed to score. And while the team’s defense did the job throughout the fourth quarter to keep the score close, the team still needed points.
So when Jonathan Isaac casually curled through the lane, it followed that Aaron Gordon would make a harder cut around a devastating Khem Birch screen. Evan Fournier bounced the ball into Aaron Gordon underneath the basket.
Aaron Gordon did what he does best, rising above Tristan Thompson for a two-handed jam. The Magic had a five-point lead and their defense could scramble enough to secure a 93-87 win over the Cavaliers at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse on Friday.
Orlando had a ragged offensive performance, especially in the second half. Cleveland did a good job putting more pressure on the ball and forcing Orlando out of the ball movement that helped the team build as much as an 11-point lead.
The Magic found it difficult to get their offense going again. It became a grind as an energetic Cavaliers team got after the Magic.
But the fourth quarter seemed to change the Magic. They brought the focus to climb back into it and their defense never really let go, keeping the Cavaliers out of the paint after a difficult first half controlling the glass and keeping a body on Thompson.
Cleveland scored only 17 points in the fourth quarter and 40 points for the second half. That is more than enough to pick up a road win. Orlando blocked nine shots, including four from Jonathan Isaac, to bolster the defense.
That helped counteract the team’s poor shooting (39.0 percent from the floor) and 17 turnovers. It is a credit to the defense the Magic gave up only 11 points off the turnovers. Orlando was focused defensively.
After the Magic’s two best offensive games of the year, they put together a defensive effort worth their reputation in the league. They ground out the game and took the Cavaliers’ best punch to get back to .500 with the win.
The Magic are back to .500 at 11-11 on the season. They continue their road trip Monday against the Milwaukee Bucks.