Orlando Magic Grades: Orlando Magic 93, Cleveland Cavaliers 87

The Orlando Magic needed all the defense they could muster to hold off the Cleveland Cavaliers and pick up a big win. (Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images)
The Orlando Magic needed all the defense they could muster to hold off the Cleveland Cavaliers and pick up a big win. (Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic had to scratch and claw defensively to get back to .500, defeating the Cleveland Cavaliers on a grind-it-out game.

38. 87. 156. Final. 93

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.

G/F. Orlando Magic. TERRENCE ROSS. B+. <a href=

B+. <a href=. G/F. Orlando Magic. EVAN FOURNIER

B. Jonathan Isaac went scoreless in the first half. He fumbled the ball a few times and struggled to keep the ball. He had a few turnovers and was a virtual non-factor offensively. But Isaac has quickly developed something of a reputation among the team as a big shot taker. He made several of them as he started to get his offense going with that pull-up jumper.<p>Isaac had nine points on 4-for-9 shooting. But all four of those makes felt big, especially his 3-pointer in the fourth quarter. Isaac steps up big offensively in big moments. He just needs the ball facilitated to him in spots where he can score.</p><p>Of course, his real value is on defense. There he had four blocks and was a general terror around the basket and in the paint. He also grabbed six rebounds as he continues to improve his rebounding. Isaac could still do a better job on quicker guards on the perimeter and taking care of his man. But his impact defensively is undeniable and makes up for poor scoring nights.</p>. F. Orlando Magic. JONATHAN ISAAC

KHEM BIRCH. B-. <p>On one hand, it is easy to see how valuable Khem Birch can be. He is a rim protector and shot blocker who can challenge shots. He deflects passes and uses his hands well to stay active in passing lanes. On the other hand, he is not going to give much offensively. And that offense can take the Magic out of everything.</p><p>Birch is a good screener and he can spring guys free. That was most evident in that Aaron Gordon finish. The Magic used that to great effect after the third quarter. But he can also gum up the offense. He does not look to score when he has the ball. Not that he should, but he kept his back turned to the basket and was never a threat to attack. Just being a threat matters.</p><p>Even close to the basket, Birch will sometimes pass up easy shots. Orlando needs him to be a bit more assertive. He should be at least as assertive as he is on defense. He blocked two shots against the Cleveland Cavaliers and deflected plenty more passes on lob attempts. That activity was really important late.</p>. C. Orlando Magic

A-. The Cleveland Cavaliers faced some bad press Friday when a report surfaced that players were upset with and not responding to coach John Beilein. The team had won just once in five games as it prepared to close out a six-game homestand. The Cavaliers were determined to get this one.<p>They really played like it after halftime especially. Cleveland rallied to the ball and played physically defensively. They got into the Magic and made it really difficult to operate. Cleveland moved the ball and attacked the paint behind <a rel=. 5-16. 13th East. CLEVELAND CAVALIERS

Evan Fournier playing near All-Star level. dark. Next

The Magic are back to .500 at 11-11 on the season. They continue their road trip Monday against the Milwaukee Bucks.