5 keys for an Orlando Magic win in Game 2 against the Milwaukee Bucks

Terrence Ross was crafty to beat the Milwaukee Bucks' defense in the Orlando Magic's Game 1 win. (Photo by Kim Klement-Pool/Getty Images)
Terrence Ross was crafty to beat the Milwaukee Bucks' defense in the Orlando Magic's Game 1 win. (Photo by Kim Klement-Pool/Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic stunned the NBA with a Game 1 win. Game 2 will be a different beast. But the Magic should still feel confident it can win.

Before any series, there is guarded optimism about what a team can do — especially a lower-seeded team. If felt like the Orlando Magic were such massive underdogs to the Milwaukee Bucks that any sign of a chance to win would be positive. Especially considering Aaron Gordon and Michael Carter-Williams were out.

The Magic almost immediately — the Bucks did make five of their first six shots — took control of Game 1. They were energetic and focused defensively, executing a gameplan specifically designed to slow down Giannis Antetokounmpo and keep him out of the paint. They moved the ball offensively, getting the ball to the soft spots in the Bucks’ defense and exploiting their struggles to defend shooting big men.

Orlando took as much as an 18-point lead in the first half. That proved the team was here to play.

More impressive? Milwaukee made its run and cut the lead to one in the third quarter. And the Magic then pulled away again. They beat them back, locking back in and hitting timely shots.

Everyone who played contributed something positive in the 122-110 win. It was hard to say anyone played poorly.

Evan Fournier struggled to shoot for much of the game. But he made three humongous 3-pointers in the fourth quarter, rewarding coach Steve Clifford’s faith and trust in him. D.J. Augustin also struggled to shoot, but his 11 assists helped keep the ball moving in the fourth quarter and gave Markelle Fultz precious more minutes for rest for that finishing kick.

The Bucks could not generate good shots consistently enough. They relied almost wholly on Giannis Antetokounmpo rushing headlong into the Magic’s defense. There was virtually no help from deep.

Impressively, Orlando got Milwaukee to break both its offensive efficiency and its base defense. By the end of the game, Brook Lopez was either shading or sticking to Nikola Vucevic to prevent his mid-range jumper or off the floor completely.

That is playoff domination.

That is not the game the Magic will expect for Game 2. They are preparing for a Bucks team that will be more focused, intense and physical. They know that Game 2 is going to be a whole new ball game, perhaps stealing Game 1 from a team that was not as prepared or focused as they should be.

When you poke the bear — or deer in this case — you best be ready for its roar.

Orlando has proven it can win in this series now. The Bucks will still have to make major adjustments to its defense because Vucevic presents a major matchup problem. And the Magic have created a defensive strategy that can bottleneck Antetokounmpo some. The Bucks will need shooters to hit to break the Magic out of that plan.

The push and pull of this series has begun. And the Magic already know plenty of areas where they have to make some changes.

Withstand the initial punch

Our first key to Game 1 is the same key here, the Orlando Magic need to get off to a good start once again. They cannot afford to fall behind or too far behind against this Milwaukee Bucks team. Having to make up a lot of ground against the league’s best defense is going to be a tall task.

Orlando was able to win Tuesday because it had control of the game. It is a lot easier to play from ahead. It allows a team to play freer and looser. You do not feel the pressure of every possession. Expecting the Bucks to increase their physicality, the last thing this team needs is more pressure.

The Magic gained a lot of confidence from winning the first quarter on Tuesday. Orlando shot 63.6-percent from the floor and 5 for 11 from deep. It is undoubted this strong play early on confirmed the belief the Magic had in themselves already. They believed their gameplan could work and the first quarter proved it could.

Sticking the Bucks in a hole put all the pressure on them. And they struggled to break through and figure out how to hit the Magic back. Milwaukee should be looking to come out with a fiery start. Orlando may not start off in the lead, but the team needs to stay in the game early and withstand that first punch.

Mid-Range Shooting

The Milwaukee Bucks are the best team in the league at defending the paint. They gave up 38.7 points in the paint per game this year. In Game 1, Milwaukee gave up only 38 points in the paint. The Bucks again did a great job protecting the lane.

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The Orlando Magic though conceded that point. They knew it would be tough to get into the lane and so they positioned Nikola Vucevic in areas in the mid-range that would make it tough for Brook Lopez to rotate to. As Milwaukee scrambled others to cover Vucevic, he would either shoot over them or pass it to open players along the perimeter.

Orlando shot 9 for 19 (47.4 percent) on mid-range jumpers, according to NBA.com. This season, the Magic averaged 14.9 attempts and shot 37.4 percent in this range. Rarely were the Magic working specifically for these shots though.

Making this shot especially at such an above-average rate changed everything. It forced Milwaukee out of the paint and will again be a huge focus for the team in its attack.

But more importantly, Orlando was efficient when it did shoot at the rim. A lot of this came later in the game as the Bucks abandoned their drop scheme. Orlando needs to be smart with its rim decisions once again. The Bucks, who averaged 5.9 blocks per game (third in the league), had only three blocks. This stifled their fast-break immensely.

Avoid fouling

Every good defense is always dancing on the line of being too physical and adding just the right amount of contact. It is a line that is constantly changing. So the Orlando Magic are going to have to get a feel for things early on and understand just how much they can reach and get into their man.

To be sure, it is still important Orlando is physical and making Milwaukee ball handlers — and especially Giannis Antetokounmpo — feel some pressure and contact. They cannot have free reign to run their offense. And a few fouls here and there are necessary to let them know they cannot enter the paint or drive with impunity.

But fouling was a considerable weakness for the Magic in Game 1. Milwaukee drew 26 fouls and shot 28 free throws. The Bucks made just 18 of them, including two rare misses from Khris Middleton.

The Magic’s fouls ranged from the necessary to stop Antetokounmpo from getting a shot at the basket to the foolish — Terrence Ross committed at least one foul in the backcourt while the team was in the bonus. Orlando got into the bonus early in the second and fourth quarters and that kept Milwaukee’s hopes alive.

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The Bucks are very good at getting to the foul line. They were seventh in the league at a 27.1-percent free throw rate. Orlando is likely not going to keep Milwaukee completely off the line. But the team has to be smarter with its physicality and avoid foolish fouls that would give away free points.

On top of all this, I have a feeling the referees might call this game a bit closer. Antetokounmpo is no likely to be held to just nine free throw attempts again.

Rebounding and controlling the glass

Similar to the issue with fouling, the Orlando Magic cannot give away free points to the Milwaukee Bucks. They have to value every possession and limit opportunities for the Bucks to get free points. That means no transition points, no fouling and no offensive rebounds.

Orlando struggled in two areas in Game 1 that are of a point of concern — their turnovers (many of them non-live ball) and their rebounding. We will focus on rebounding here because that has been a concern throughout the entire restart to the season.

The Magic gave up 11 offensive rebounds for 10 second-chance points. That feels like Orlando dodged a major bullet. The team was in a good defensive position, for the most part, to recover from the team’s rebounding mistakes. But the Magic probably cannot count on that kind of luck.

Rebounding is a central pillar to the Magic’s defensive success. This season, Orlando was fifth in the league with a 74.9-percent defensive rebound rate. After the season restarted, the Magic fell to seventh but increased their defensive rebound rate to 75.7-percent. However, there were several key possessions in big games — most notably against the Boston Celtics — where they gave up big offensive rebounds.

While Orlando gave up its share of offensive rebounds, it made big boards when it had to. The rebounding in Game 1 was big at key moments. Terrence Ross and James Ennis especially helped significantly on the glass in key moments at the end of the game. Orlando will have to continue to lock down the boards.

Get Evan Fournier, Terrence Ross going

The surprising part of Game 1 was how the Orlando Magic won without shooting from its best 3-point shooters. Nikola Vucevic was the hub around which everything rotated. But it was the surprise shooting from Gary Clark and James Ennis that seemed to give the team a huge spark.

It is going to be hard to rely on Clark scoring 15 points (his career-high) and Ennis scoring 11 points every single night. Those were the guys the Milwaukee Bucks wanted to shoot. To some extent, they were probably fine with those guys beating them this time around.

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  • To win the rest of this series, the Magic need to make sure they can consistently get both Terrence Ross and Evan Fournier their shots and going. That was a struggle throughout the game and they may not be able to run specific plays for them — Orlando tried desperately to force the ball to Fournier early in the third quarter but gave away most of their 10-point lead with turnovers and poor execution.

    Some of this will have to come in transition. Both Fournier and Ross need to run the floor and find their 3-pointers in transition.

    Some of this might mean putting Fournier on the ball a bit more and running pick and rolls — he led the team with 0.96 points per possession as the ball-handler in pick and rolls, according to NBA.com’s tracking statistics. That might slow the offense some, but he has good chemistry with Nikola Vucevic and puts more stress on the defense with his ability to pull up and score. Mixing that in could keep Fournier involved while putting a different stress on Milwaukee’s defense.

    Some of this might mean being smarter with their cuts. Ross adjusted effectively throughout the game. He scored 18 points without hitting a 3-pointer, his previous high without making a 3-pointer was 10. Ross was smart with his cutting to the basket with how far the Bucks were overplaying his 3-point shooting.

    Both Fournier and Ross will have to get crafty and find ways to make sure they get their points. Eventually, too, the ball will find them on the perimeter. If Orlando is moving the ball effectively, they will still get their shots. Just as Fournier with the big shots he made in the fourth quarter.

    If they and the Magic stay patient and committed, they should have every chance to win this game again.

    dark. Next. Orlando Magic's Game 1 win was no fluke

    Game 2 is Thursday at 6 p.m. The Magic will see just how prepared they are for the counterpunch the Bucks send their way.