Fear What Deer? Orlando Magic’s Game 1 win was no fluke

The Orlando Magic shocked the NBA with a dominant win over the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 1. (Photo by Kim Klement-Pool/Getty Images)
The Orlando Magic shocked the NBA with a dominant win over the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 1. (Photo by Kim Klement-Pool/Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic stunned the NBA with a dominant win over the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 1. There are challenges ahead, but the win was no fluke.

Even the most sanguine Orlando Magic fans had to be incredulous over what they saw on Tuesday afternoon.

They did not just beat the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 1. They dominated them from start to finish 122-110, not trailing except for briefly at the beginning of the game and never by more than two possessions.

In spite of the team not being even close to full strength, the Magic did not need to use that excuse. They came out with more energy, intensity and focus to execute time and time again whenever their lead was potentially in jeopardy. Every time the Bucks were poised to make a comeback, the Magic answered the bell.

The catalyst for this astonishing upset was none other than Nikola Vucevic.

He struggled mightily in the first round last year against Marc Gasol and the Toronto Raptors. The two most compelling reasons are because Gasol is an adroit defender and Vucevic was simply inexperienced in the postseason. Gasol was the worst possible matchup with his strength and physicality.

That is no longer the case. Nikola Vucevic surprisingly outplayed even MVP front-runner Giannis Antetokounmpo in Game 1. Vucevic put up 35 points and 14 rebounds, knocking down five shots from behind the arc.

These all tied or broke his previous career highs in the playoffs. He was also very impressive with his mid-range shots and played solid defense in the low post.

Obviously, Vucevic deserves his props, but others guys chipped in as well.

Markelle Fultz made his first career playoff start but showed his true colors. And no, he did not look as green as the Bucks’ uniforms.

He was very efficient, under control and confident. The moment never looked too big for him.

It also helps when James Ennis plays solid defense across the board, while still finding a way to contribute on the offensive end. He made several big defensive plays, helping hold All-Star Khris Middleton in check while picking up a few steals and deflections along the way.

Even streaky sixth-man Terrence Ross had his human torch reignited when they needed him. He is easily their most valuable bench player. Ross was very aggressive at attacking the rim surprisingly, taking what the defense gave him as they overplayed his 3-point shot.

That is why two-thirds of his points came from either the charity stripe or in the paint. His jumper was not great, especially from behind the arc (0 for 3), but he found ways to compensate. His energy level was also superb.

Even guys like D.J. Augustin and Evan Fournier, both of whom shot the ball poorly, still filled up the stat sheet by combining for 16 assists and six rebounds in the backcourt. And when the Magic needed them to hit big shots in the fourth quarter, the veterans delivers.

Orlando was aggressive throughout the game too. The Magic also missed only one of their 20 plus free throw attempts.

Defensively, they did a terrific job of limiting the production from the other starters not wearing number 34. Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez in particular both floundered against a relentless Magic defense that forced a very potent offense to shoot the ball poorly, especially from behind the arc.

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Besides that, they did not make it easy for Antetokounmpo to attack the rim. Thanks to good one-on-one defense against Antetokounmpo and even better help defense in the post, they were able to wear him out.

His box score numbers do not divulge how hard he had to work to get his against a scrappy, well-coached team. By the fourth quarter, it caught up to him as he only had three of his 31 points with the game on the line.

Nobody else could pick up the slack and Milwaukee never made a serious run to make Magic fans apprehensive.

Game 2 on Thursday night will be a different story of course. Everyone with the Magic is steeling themselves for this challenge. Milwaukee did not earn the top seed in the Eastern Conference for nothing.

Last year, Orlando stole Game 1 from Toronto only to see the eventual champions wake up and put the hammer down in the next four games.

So is this win just a fluke like last year or something else? ARe the Magic better prepared to pull off an improbable upset?

We do not know yet. But this Orlando team is more experienced and battle-tested. Milwaukee no longer has a true home-court advantage because of this unprecedented playoff setup — and that certainly played a role as Orlando held off a Milwaukee run in the fourth quarter Tuesday.

Besides that, Orlando barely won Game 1 last year in Toronto in a back-and-forth dogfight. This year, the Magic had the upper hand throughout the duration of the game.

To elicit even more hope, Vucevic’s starring game gives the team confidence it can rely on its star. The Bucks knew Vucevic would be the focus and he still took it to the best defense in the league.

They can go as far as he can take them. If he keeps playing as he did in Game 1, what team can stop him? Orlando created a gameplan perfectly suited to Vucevic’s skill set and the weaknesses within Milwaukee’s vaunted defense.

No one is expecting the Bucks to lay down. They finished with the best record in the league for a reason.

But the Magic should not be underestimated. Something feels different this year. It would be hard to see this team losing four straight again, especially with Aaron Gordon and Michael Carter-Williams likely to return before the end of the series.

This is not your normal playoffs. That is why both 8-seeds won Game 1 against the top seed on Tuesday. That has not been done since 2003.

It explains why Charles Barkley got pretty hyped on Inside the NBA and audaciously declared that the Trail Blazers will sweep the Lakers.

Orlando fans should be equally ecstatic after their Game 1. But their personnel is not going to be too excited about one win.

They are not just happy to be here or steal one game. They came here to win this series.

dark. Next. Orlando Magic's young players will be key to series win

The Bucks cannot expect the magic to be a pushover. If Milwaukee expects to win, it is going to have to earn it because Orlando is not going to beat themselves anytime soon.