Orlando Magic’s ‘others’ give team humongous lift

James Ennis made several big plays that do not show up in a box score as the Orlando Magic scored a Game 1 upset. (Photo by Kim Klement-Pool/Getty Images)
James Ennis made several big plays that do not show up in a box score as the Orlando Magic scored a Game 1 upset. (Photo by Kim Klement-Pool/Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic got a star turn from Nikola Vucevic. But it was the role players who stepped up and created extra possessions in the Game 1 win.

There were times even within the seeding round where Gary Clark was not sure he was going to play.

The forward signed with the Orlando Magic back in January on a two-way contract to try to give the team some more versatility at power forward. But his season saw him yo-yo in and out of the rotation. Some stretches he would play the primary backup minutes behind Aaron Gordon, other times he would only get spot-up minutes.

Clark was never quite sure what his role would be. He only could stay prepared and ready for the opportunity when it came.

That slowly came during the seeding round as the injuries piled up. And Clark delivered.

The call came late Monday. Aaron Gordon was not ready to play NBA-level basketball and would miss Game 1. Clark was suddenly thrown into the starting lineup and expected to defend the league’s likely two-time MVP.

All the quiet work and waiting Clark did on this team paid off. In the biggest moment for his team, his team had confidence in him.

They prepared him for this big moment.

"“It’s huge because, with coach, I’ve been blessed to be under him and learn how to be a pro on the court,” Clark said after Tuesday’s Game 1 win. “Just the preparation and execution and knowing all your things from top to bottom. Coach I would bet is one of the most knowledgeable people when it comes to what works and what doesn’t work. It’s one of those things where I know he will not play me unless he has the utmost confidence to play me. You have to respect it as an adult and as a professional. When you mess up so many times, it’s inevitable you’re not going to play.”"

That might make it seem like Clark was on some thin ice. But the team always knew they could turn to him when they needed him.

Still, nobody could have expected what he did in Game 1. To say that Clark did well is an understatement.

He scored a career-high 15 points on 4-for-12 shooting from beyond the arc. And while Giannis Antetokounmpo still scored 31 points, grabbed 17 rebounds and dished out seven assists, his life was not easy. Clark helped with a defensive strategy that effectively slowed the Bucks down.

The Magic got a major contribution from this unexpected source and it completely changed the game for Orlando.

"“I think that he is very poised,” coach Steve Clifford said after Tuesday’s Game 1. “He concentrates on gameplans. His questions are mostly centered around coverages or set plays or whatever. I think that’s a big strength of his. He’s a naturally poised guy and he knows how to get ready to play.”"

Clark had to keep himself engaged with the team even as his minutes were inconsistent. When the opportunity arose inside the campus, Clark stepped up. He averaged 6.3 points per game and shot 44.0 percent from beyond the arc during the seeding round.

His 3-point shooting at times throughout the seeding round made a big difference in games. And for sure, his ability to hit from the outside was a key factor in the Game 1 win.

When you are confidently hitting stepback jumpers to evade Antetokounmpo, you are doing something right.

The ‘others’

As Shaquille O’Neal likes to say on the NBA’s broadcast on TNT, stars win games and have to step up. But the attention they receive requires the “others” to take advantage. Without these “others” the stars are going to get choked off by a defense that is focused on all their tendencies.

In Game 1, it was Nikola Vucevic’s star power that got the Orlando Magic over the finish line. But it was the play from guys like Gary Clark that made it all possible. It was very much about players doing things a bit outside of their norm to take advantage of the Bucks’ weaknesses, as small as they are.

"“We all believe in Gary,” Markelle Fultz said of Gary Clark after the Game 1 win. “We know he can shoot the ball. He can guard multiple positions. He did a great job today. It was a team effort, we all came together. But again that is another guy who builds off the confidence we give him too. He is doing a great job and he just has to keep it up.”"

Clark’s defense especially was a huge factor in the game. Giannis Antetokounmpo put up an impressive stat line, but he also had five turnovers.

Clark forced more than a few of those, drawing an early charge. What was the biggest key to the Magic’s success in this matchup was how Clark positioned himself to help wall off the paint and stand as a barrier to Antetokounmpo.

It was not only that charge, but Clark put himself in key position throughout the game, defending both Antetokounmpo and the pick and roll.

Whenever Antetkounmpo got out in transition, he was usually met by Gary Clark, or Khem Birch, walling off the paint with another Magic player standing next to him. This was essential to the Magic’s defensive strategy.

Clark did a good job establishing his spot and forcing these kinds of decisions. If Antetokounmpo has any weakness, it is his willingness to drive straight through guys. He commits his fair share of charges.

By forcing Antetokounmpo to make a choice, you slow him down and increase the chances of getting a stop.

Certainly in pick and roll situations, whenever you lose contact with Antetokounmpo, you put yourself at risk. An adjustment the Bucks can make for Game 2 is to involve Antetokounmpo more as the roller in pick and rolls to force the Magic to make a decision on how to defend him and lose contact with him to prevent drives at the basket.

Everyone plays a part

But it was not just Gary Clark that did this. Khem Birch did a big job in his minutes slowing Antetokounmpo down in the same way.

This was clearly the Magic’s strategy. And they executed it effectively.

Other players stood out too for their defensive execution and energy. It was not just the 3-point shooting that Orlando got from Gary Clark or James Ennis either.

The “others” were vital to the team’s overall defensive strategy and success.

James Ennis especially made a lot of big plays defensively, darting in for steals and deflections and locking down Khris Middleton.

Ennis had two key deflections in the third quarter that gave the Magic extra possessions.

Here he is roaming a bit while defending Marvin Williams. But he recovers well to get in front and then makes an incredible play to deflect the lob pass to start the fast break and draw the professional foul.

He made another similar play as he played off Antetokounmpo, daring him to shoot.

There were little plays like this that earned the Magic extra possessions throughout Game 1. Wesley Iwundu’s block on Giannis Antetokounmpo stood out as a highlight play. Even Terrence Ross grabbing six rebounds, several of them contested and emphatic, were all huge contributors to the victory.

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These are the plays that are going to be necessary to win in the series. These players have to continue to deliver even things that do not show up in the box score. Their execution of the game plan is as vital as anything else.

The rallying call

The Orlando Magic have had to rally with injuries all year. And that experience has likely helped the team prepare and be ready for the losses they have suffered to step up in the playoffs.

But their success was simple — the Magic had to play better no matter who they have. And they all seemed to rise to the challenge Tuesday.

"“This is a league where you have to plan on injuries,” coach Steve Clifford said after the game Tuesday. “We’ve had more than our share. Guys have done a good job all year hanging in there. It sounds simple, but you have to play well. No matter who is on the floor, you can’t turn the ball over. You can’t foul unnecessarily. You have to execute and you have to know the game plan. We have a bunch of guys who understand that and do that. And they did it well tonight.”"

The Magic showed that understanding in executing their gameplan in Game 1. Their “others” stepped up.

Especially Clark. Clark had the biggest responsibility and proved he could hold his own against Antetokounmpo. That will prove valuable as the series continues.

Next. The Other Side: Bucks just flat in Game 1. dark

And having done it in one game, the Magic know they need all these players to step up and fill in again this series.