Orlando Magic’s young players will be the key against the Milwaukee Bucks

Despite some questions on his ultimate development, the Orlando Magic should plan as if Markelle Fultz is their starting point guard. (Photo by Kim Klement-Pool/Getty Images)
Despite some questions on his ultimate development, the Orlando Magic should plan as if Markelle Fultz is their starting point guard. (Photo by Kim Klement-Pool/Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic went to Markelle Fultz to help give the team a push to defeat the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 1. He will need to step up all over again.

The first points the Orlando Magic scored in their playoff series against the Milwaukee Bucks came from Markelle Fultz.

Nikola Vucevic occupied ost of the Bucks’ defensive attention, drawing Brook Lopez out of the paint. But it was Markelle Fultz who drew the first blood, collecting the ball along the sideline from Nikola Vucevic before making a hard jab and drive past Eric Bledsoe for a reverse layup.

Fultz continued his strong play throughout the first quarter. He took the space the Bucks were giving him as they dropped back into the paint. Bledsoe struggled to get around screens and catch up. Fultz quickly found space and pulled up into his rhythm for his jump shot.

That they went in and helped set the tone for the game. The Bucks had concerns over Vucevic for sure. But Fultz’s 4-for-4 foray to start the game — and the control and pace he played with the rest of the game — turned a potential upset into a dominant win.

The Magic still have their work cut out for them against the Bucks. But their 122-110 Game 1 victory proves they can compete with the best team in the league.

A lot of things have to go right for Orlando to win, and production from the young players like Fultz is at the top of the list.

To start the game, Vucevic made it clear he was going to dominate this game. But no player, even one playing so great, can win on his own. He was going to need help from his teammates to win.

Fultz stepped up to that plate. He played a great game, scoring 15 points and dishing out six assists. Fultz made his presence felt early and made the Bucks defense pay attention.

Orlando needed that contribution from an unexpected place, or a contribution greater than expected, to get the win. They will need more from players throughout the roster. And young and inexperienced players are going to have to step up in the process.

Gary Clark also stepped into the starting lineup in place of Aaron Gordon. In his first real playoff action, he scored 15 points. Each of his four 3-pointers were huge and stopped Milwaukee’s momentum every time it tried to cut Orlando’s lead.

Gary Clark was also the lead man defending Giannis Antetokounmpo. Although Antetokounmpo scored 31 points, overall, Orlando played good defense on him as the Magic forced him to turn the ball over five times.

Clark proved to be able to provide a solid wall and a roadblock, forcing Antetokounmpo to turn and think through his game rather than play instinctively. And just as teams tend to do with Fultz, the Magic dared Antetokounmpo to shoot from deep, ducking way under screens and leaving him open when he caught the ball beyond the 3-point line.

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Other young players made major contributions too. Wesley Iwundu and Khem Birch did not generate much in the way of box score statistics, but they made a positive impact with their minutes by being active defensively.

These players stepping up to fill the void and maintain the team’s energy was vital every time the Bucks made a push for the lead. Vucevic was a consistent drumbeat throughout the game. But the Magic could not build as much as an 18-point lead or extend the lead back out after the Bucks cut it to one without the contributions throughout the roster.

Everyone had to play well and fill in to get the win.

This allowed Evan Fournier to struggle through the first three quarters until he was able to hit three clutch 3-point shots in the fourth quarter to finally put the Bucks away. Shooting is going to be important all series long, and when Aaron Gordon comes back, it is going to be the main question whether or not he is going to make shots.

And that might be the scary part. Orlando is still without its best defender in Gordon. That could give them a better chance of slowing down the inevitable counterpunch with the game plan they executed so well around him.

Still, shooting will be important. The Magic will need all these contributions again for Game 2.

Gordon has to spread the Bucks defense and make them pay when they dare him to shoot. The Magic shot 39 percent from three in Game 1 and will have to shoot around the same to stay competitive in Game 2. Gordon is going to need to help Orlando’s rebounding issues as they allowed 11 offensive rebounds compared to their own four offensive rebounds.

Since Michael Carter-Williams’ status is unknown, Wesley Iwundu is going to need to continue bringing defensive pressure. He is going to have to keep bringing defensive intensity to disrupt the Bucks’ offense.

It was important to force 16 turnovers to win Game 1. But Orlando cannot expect Milwaukee to be that sloppy or unfocused again.

Expect the Bucks to come out ready for Game 2, and the Magic are going to need the young players to step up all over again.

Players like Fultz and Gordon are going to need to play well to give the Magic’s offense diversity and give themselves a chance to win Game 2. The Bucks will surely adjust to close down the mid-range jumpers the Magic feasted on in Game 1.

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Game 1’s victory is a step in the right direction but the Magic can not be satisfied and continue to prove that their young core has not reached their ceiling.