Orlando Magic understand the counterpunch wave is coming in Game 2

Evan Fournier hit a couple of big shots in Game 1. But he knows Game 2 will be tougher for the Orlando Magic. (Photo by Kim Klement-Pool/Getty Images)
Evan Fournier hit a couple of big shots in Game 1. But he knows Game 2 will be tougher for the Orlando Magic. (Photo by Kim Klement-Pool/Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic got hit in last year’s Game 2 on their way to a five-game series loss. That lesson is carrying over to preparation this time around.

Aaron Gordon described his first Playoff trip often throughout the season. It was the pinnacle of his basketball career so far. The thing that made all the hard work worth it and the taste he wanted to get so bad again.

It was instructive too for the young forward and his teammates.

Game 1 was all adrenaline. The Orlando Magic hitting big shots and playing without fear. They had confidence from their 22-9 finish and faced an opponent with championship aspirations perhaps thinking their first-round series was pro forma.

When the Magic shocked them on D.J. Augustin’s famous 3-pointer, it felt like they could conquer anything. This playoff stuff was easy.

Then came the next vital playoff experience that Gordon describes so well.

They entered Game 2 at the Scotiabank Arena to a completely different atmosphere. The Raptors crowd was in a frenzy ready to push their team to a series tie. The Raptors were steely-eyed and determined not to fall into a 2-0 hole.

Gordon described feeling like there was a wave of noise coming from the stadium that only got louder as the Raptors grew their lead. Toronto won the game 111-82 in a game that was never particularly close.

This week, in reflecting back on that playoff series, Evan Fournier said the Raptors got better with each game. They learned everything the Magic were doing to the point where the Magic could no longer operate offensively. Orlando simply never adjusted or could not meet the moment.

It was the greatest lesson that only the playoffs can deliver to a young team — every game is harder than the last and every game demands you raise it another level.

After once again scoring an upset win in Game 1 of their playoffs series, defeating the Milwaukee Bucks this time 122-110, the Orlando Magic are going to feel that wave once of intensity once again.

The counterpunch is coming.

"“It’s basically learning from game to game,” Evan Fournier said after practice Wednesday. “Last year, the Raptors got better after Game 1 and better after Game 2, et cetera. And that was probably the biggest lesson that we learned from last year. You have to progress within the series and progress after every game. You get a better understanding of the way teams are playing you.”"

Experience is the greatest teacher. The Magic know they will have to be ready for the adjustments that are going to come. It is lingering in the back of their heads that this game will be different.

Nobody really knows what it will be. Surely the Bucks will look to find more ways to get in transition. They may hue closer to Nikola Vucevic on the perimeter, dropping less aggressively. They use different actions to get Giannis Antetokounmpo the ball where the Magic cannot wall him up.

Fournier said last year’s adjustment was not merely the intensity, but the adjustments Toronto made were also done at a higher level. The Raptors were more physical and committed to what had worked for them.

Fournier said he expects the Bucks to stay in their base, but make little tweaks to try to knock the Magic off course.

The team undoubtedly played a strong game in Game 1. The Magic essentially led the entire game. But they will need the same attention to detail and focus that worked so well.

Orlando also knows it will have to defend better and do a better job crowding the paint while also avoiding turnovers — the team committed 15 turnovers leading to 25 points. Its rebounding was also not fantastic — giving up 11 offensive rebounds for 10 second-chance points.

Coach Steve Clifford said the focus is not necessarily on the lessons the team might have learned from last year, but more on what the team has to do against this team and this series.

There is always something to improve. And the Bucks will certainly make things harder.

"“We can’t get too caught up in this one,” Markelle Fultz said after Tuesday’s win. “We’re excited right now and enjoying the moment. The one thing I’ve been talking to about with the guys is this game is over. You have to know they are going to come with more effort. It’s going to be tougher next game. You have to take it one game at a time. As long as we do that, we’ll give ourselves the best chance to win.”"

If there is one thing that feels undoubtedly different about the Magic it is that they have a quiet confidence about them. That they know how to handle this and know what to expect as the intensity ratchets up.

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The Magic hope to be a bit healthier too.

Steve Clifford said Aaron Gordon was playing two-on-two after the team’s practice Wednesday and Michael Carter-Williams was doing some on-court work. That is a positive sign for their return. But the training staff still has a watchful eye on them.

As of Wednesday night, Gordon was listed as questionable and Carter-Williams was listed as doubtful. The Magic will have to be prepared to go at it without them again.

Game 1 should have proven the team has the capability of winning even without these key players — although more bodies and certainly two of the team’s best defenders would help a ton.

The one thing that is very clear is that Game 2 is going to be a very different battle. The Magic will try to execute their game plan again, but they will inevitably have to adjust on the fly and be prepared for a Bucks team with some desperation.

There will be no easing into this game.

"“Game 1 that’s in the past,” James Ennis said after practice Wednesday. “It’s like a new game. We have to come with the same focus. We have to compete at a high level. They are going to come and give us their best. We have to be prepared for war. I feel like all our guys are really focused and really hungry.”"

Ennis laid down the gauntlet for sure. He said he wants to see Khris Middleton at his best and Giannis Antetokounmpo at his best, believing fully his Magic team can measure up. He said it did not seem like the Bucks tailored their gameplan specifically for the Magic.

This team is not lacking for confidence.

Milwaukee will surely change. This is a new game and a new battle.

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

If anything, Orlando learned that lesson from last year. And it is clear this year the team has a better understanding of what it will take to get that second win in the postseason.