In first game without fans, Orlando Magic find energy with second unit

Orlando Magic center Khem Birch provided the necessary energy to stake the Orlando Magic's lead. (Photo by Ashley Landis - Pool/Getty Images)
Orlando Magic center Khem Birch provided the necessary energy to stake the Orlando Magic's lead. (Photo by Ashley Landis - Pool/Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic had to find a way to create energy and erase a deficit. Their bench came through with energetic plays that changed the game.

128. 38. 118. 147. Final

With the hiatus over and the season resuming, fans and players are going to need to get accustomed to a new brand of basketball.

On the court Friday, there seemed to be a lack of energy at the start for the Orlando Magic. They did not have their trademark defensive intensity and started the game a little lackluster as they allowed 39 points in the first quarter.

The Brooklyn Nets fed the ball inside, breaking down the first level of the defense and feeding it to Jarrett Allen crashing the lane. Allen scored 10 points on a perfect 5-for-5 shooting to start the game. Orlando was scrambling to keep up.

It took the players rallying together and a few timely timeouts from Steve Clifford to get the team together to defend and get the shots falling.

And when the second quarter began, the Magic got after it with the help of their second unit. The unsung heroes that brought the energy the team needed to propel them to an eventual 30 point lead that they held in the third quarter and a 128-118 win in the first game of the seeding round.

"“We knew Brooklyn could score the ball and play at a fast pace,” Nikola Vucevic said after Friday’s game. “We knew it was a long game if they came out hot. We needed to gather ourselves a little bit and organize ourselves defensively, which I thought we did as the game went along. We were able to get back into the game and take a lead. It was a good response from us.”"

Clifford probably puts it simply. The biggest adjustment a team can make is to play better. And oftentimes it takes one player to change a team’s momentum.

The bench itself can change this momentum. And that became vital for the Magic to turn the game around.

Khem Birch entered the game with the team trailing by two. Nine seconds later, he drew a foul and knocked down two free throws. He would go on to go 6 for 6 from the line in the game, forcing his way into good situations in the paint and going 3 for 6 from the field including a very nice lay-in.

Khem Birch’s game was also very well-rounded as he finished with five assists, four rebounds and two blocks.

All those meager statistics were extremely impactful. Suddenly the Magic had a stronger, more focused defense. And Birch did a good job finding holes in the defense he could exploit.

The Magic took the lead for good thanks to a hustle play from Birch. He trailed Markelle Fultz on the break who threw the ball off the backboard — or lost it on his way up — for Khem Birch to collect and score.

Markelle Fultz put in good work during this game in his limited minutes. He scored eight points with a team-high six assists in 19 minutes. He looked good attacking the basket and showcased a sufficient mid-range jump shot, as well as picking out teammates for buckets when needed.

The same for Jonathan Isaac, who also continued to attack and find gaps as he reclaims his season.

Magic fans have greatly anticipated Jonathan Isaac’s return and he made it worth their time.

He fit in quite nicely and he made the most out of his minutes, playing very efficiently in his time on the floor.

Isaac shot 6 for 7 from the field and scored 16 points with six rebounds and a steal. When he’s on the floor, the team just looks more dangerous and plays with more tenacity. He brings the energy that the team will need since there isn’t a crowd to amp the team up with the bubble in place.

"“I thought J.I. played terrific,” Clifford said after Friday’s game. “He’s such a hard worker, he was doing two-a-days for a good part of the optional workers and it’s paying off for him. It’s going to take a little time. These guys haven’t played for four months and he hasn’t played since December. You can see especially from a conditioning standpoint, it’s going to take a little time.”"

One particular special play in the game was a play in transition when the game was already decided in the fourth quarter, but it showcased how special the connection between Fultz and Isaac can be and the kind of highlight feel potential can be had with the two players.

Fultz picked up a loose ball at the opposite free-throw line and threw a blind over-the-head pass to Isaac and after one dribble Isaac slammed it home with two hands.

The Isaac basket put the Magic up 118-89 and it seemed like it was going to be cruise control from there, but the Magic had a bit of a problem when they brought in their deep bench.

The Magic had 53 bench points in this game. This was a critical part of the game and a critical part of the win. Orlando was struggling and the team’s bench players gave it the energy and the drive to get over the top.

Not only to get over the top, but blow the game open. Isaac’s strong third-quarter run turned a blowout into a runaway, expanding that lead to 30 points on that emphatic dunk. The Magic could do whatever they wanted.

Overall, it was a very good performance for the Magic in the middle two quarters as they outscored the Nets 75-43 in the 2nd and 3rd.

Orlando just has to figure out those starts so the bench is building on a lead rather than trying to erase a deficit.

Grades: Orlando Magic 128, Brooklyn Nets 118. dark. Next

That dominance was enough to get them this game, but against better competition, they will need to start with the energy that they were able to harness later on in this contest.