5 keys for an Orlando Magic win in Game 3 against the Milwaukee Bucks

Markelle Fultz does a lot to control the Orlando Magic's pace and rhythm in each game. (Photo by Ashley Landis - Pool/Getty Images)
Markelle Fultz does a lot to control the Orlando Magic's pace and rhythm in each game. (Photo by Ashley Landis - Pool/Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic get their chance at redemption to respond to a Game 2 loss. The Milwaukee Bucks certainly will not make things easy.

The Orlando Magic knew the other shoe was going to drop. There was no avoiding it and no denying it. The Milwaukee Bucks were not going to let their lethargic Game 1 rest.

Orlando understood too what happens when you score an upset in Game 1. The team saw it last year when the group defeated the Toronto Raptors. Suddenly a championship team awoke and they put the screws to the team.

In that sense, Thursday’s 111-96 loss was a small measure of progress. The keyword being small. At this point in the season, winning is all that matters. And any true sign of progress and maturity will come in whether the Magic compete in and win Game 3.

It is beyond simple to say Game 3 is a turning point in the series. Every game is a turning point in the series. But like everything else, the Magic cannot fall behind and cannot get down too far. Eventually, time runs out.

The Bucks made their response in Game 2 and Game 3 needs to be the Magic’s response.

Of course, the margin for error remains very small for Orlando. The Magic can play a very good game and still have holes the Bucks can exploit. They will still have to be on the top of their games to slow down Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks juggernaut.

Nothing is coming easy.

The Magic never responded to the adversity from last season in the playoffs. They never could overcome the pressure and defense that got put on them.

The Bucks are an equally strong defensive challenge. And how the Magic ultimately attack the Bucks defense — and whether they make shots — will be the difference in the game. In that way, it really does feel like Orlando will control the outcome of the game.

Make shots, set up the defense and keep the ball moving and the Magic have a real chance to win. Do not do any of those things or falter in some way and the Bucks could win comfortably.

Milwaukee is still the prohibitive favorite. But it feels like there is a small door the team can get through to sneak out a win. A very small one.

Orlando certainly hopes it will have Aaron Gordon back even in a small capacity. He participated in the team’s practice Friday. But his availability will depend on how he and his hamstring feel in the morning.

That would change some things for sure. The Magic know Gordon can hold his own better solo against Antetokounmpo. That would leave them less exposed at the 3-point line — an area that the Bucks took advantage of in Game 2 after struggling in Game 1.

Despite the feeling Milwaukee has gotten some of its swagger back — and indeed, Orlando has not seen Milwaukee at its best — Orlando feels some confidence the team is very much in this series. Game 3 is a chance to prove that.

Patience with shots

The simple adjustment that needs to be made from Games 2 to 3 is to make shots. After shooting just 3 for 23 in the first quarter of Thursday’s Game 2, it felt like that the answer was surprisingly simple. The Magic got decent looks and just missed them. All of them.

The answer is a bit more complex. Orlando eventually got itself going and got back in the game. Ball movement and patience were a bigger part of that equation. The Magic figured out how to break down the Bucks’ defense and work the ball side to side.

According to NBA.com’s stats database, the Magic made 12 of 26 shots with the closest defender six or more feet away and 5 of 22 with the closest defender 4-6 feet away. The Bucks made 26 of 52 (50-percent event) shots in the game from those ranges combined for some reference.

In the first quarter, Orlando made just two of its nine shots with the closest defender six or more feet away and 1 for 4 with the closest defender 4-6 feet away. So, of the the Magic’s 23 shots in the first quarter, 13 of them were “open” or “wide open.”

The problem for Orlando was not necessarily shot quality. But it was how they got those shots and when those shots came in the shot clock.

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Orlando went 3 for 15 on shots taken early in the shot clock (18-22 seconds remaining on the clock) including missing all five 3-pointers. They went 5 for 13, including 1 for 6 from deep, on shots taken with 15-18 seconds remaining on the shot clock.

In the regular season, the Magic averaged just 25.5 of those attempts per game. The Magic were not an early shot clock team. And they recognize that part of stopping the Bucks’ dangerous transition game is staying patient and working for better shots.

This was really a symbol of how impatient Orlando was with its shot selection. Being smarter in that category will help both the defense and offense.

Paint Decisions

A lot of what the Orlando Magic are trying to do is to prevent fast-break opportunities for the Milwaukee Bucks. They know that the most dangerous thing the Bucks can do is get out in transition and score quick points before the Magic can set their defense.

Quick shots are one part of this problem. Take quick shots and the Bucks start flowing in transition more. And Orlando is playing outside of its characteristic. Turnovers also create fast breaks. But so does blocks and missed shots near the rim.

Milwaukee blocked 5.9 shots per game (the third-most in the league) and, of course, the team gives up the fewest points in the paint in the league. The Bucks had just three blocks in Game 1, they had four in Game 2. Orlando scored just 24 points in the paint in Game 2.

The Bucks want to invite people in the paint where they can swarm and deflect shots to charge their fast break. Orlando has done well to prevent Milwaukee from getting out in transition. The Magic are not giving up fast breaks.

But this is an area the Magic are going to concede. They just have to be smart when they attack.

"“To be honest with you, we’re not going to win the paint game,” coach Steve Clifford said after practice Friday. “They are committed to the rim, to the paint. They are one of the best teams that I have seen in 20 years. They are super disciplined. They play with great effort and great technique. The ball has got to get to the paint, otherwise, you can’t draw fouls and there won’t be any kick-out threes. Nobody scores in the paint against them and it’s going to be hard to do.”"

But part of the problem in Game 2 was the Magic’s poor decisions shooting at the rim. Orlando took forced, rushed and contested shots. While the field goal percentage — 12 for 29 — is not fully indicative of the Magic’s attack because of the free-throw shooting, the Magic’s bad paint decisions can lead to disaster for the team.

Attacking the Glass

One of the central tenets of Steve Clifford’s defense is to lock down the glass. Defensive rebounding is at a premium for the team. And Orlando ranks among the top defensive rebounding teams in the league.

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But Clifford has often ignored these statistics. He is not talking about merely getting rebounds, but dominating the glass. Nothing makes him more frustrated or disappointed than giving up an offensive rebound. It is probably more of a symbol of the team not playing with the right physicality or intensity or just being out of position.

The Magic again struggled on the glass. They gave up plenty of second-chance opportunities and did not have the glass on lockdown. Milwaukee grabbed 11 offensive rebounds for 17 points (on 7-for-12 shooting).

For a team with such a small margin for error to succeed in this series, giving away extra possessions like this will be a problem. Antetokounmpo is going to get some just out of pure athleticism. But Orlando cannot allow a ton of second-chance opportunities.

This will be a sign of the team’s energy, intensity and focus. But this is one thing in the Magic’s defense that the Bucks have been able to exploit to some extent. This is an area the team has to shore up quickly.

Building the Wall

When Steve Clifford is asked about how the Orlando Magic are doing defending Giannis Antetokounmpo, he will chuckle a bit to himself. Antetokounmpo is still getting his averages. He scored 31 points in Game 1 to go with 17 rebounds. Then he came back with 28 points and 20 rebounds in Game 2.

It is hard to say Antetokounmpo is not dominating this series. So much of the Magic’s defensive strategy is geared toward slowing him down. Everything in this series revolves around the MVP frontrunner. Orlando wants to slow him down and make everyone else make plays to beat them.

But in reality, Clifford feels the Magic are doing a good job on Antetokounmpo. For the most part, they have made him think and slowed his progress down. He has not had many straight line drives at the rim at full speed. Orlando has done a good job building a wall at the foul line.

Antetokounmpo’s response was to do a better job kicking to the perimeter. Getting open shots from Pat Connaughton, Brook Lopez and Kyle Korver were deciding factors in Game 2. Antetokounmpo then took over at the end of the game as the Magic scrambled.

Orlando has to stick to this strategy. It is largely working. And the Bucks have only really been able to become a devastating offensive force when the Magic have not been able to get themselves set. When Antetokounmpo is able to get downhill, in other words.

Markelle Fultz and the pace

So much about what the Orlando Magic want to be offensively is in Markelle Fultz’s hands. They know they are at their best offensively when Fultz is picking up the pace and getting the team through its sets quicker. Fultz’s unpredictability is the key to everything.

Milwaukee Bucks
Milwaukee Bucks /

Milwaukee Bucks

In Game 1, Markelle Fultz hit four shots in the first quarter and set the tone for the game with his mid-range shooting and feeding Nikola Vucevic in the pick and roll. In Game 2, Eric Bledsoe got into him, no longer conceding the mid-range jumper, and disrupted everything the Magic would run.

Fultz never really got into Game 2. He scored 11 points on 4-for-11 shooting. He was still taking almost only mid-range jumpers and not getting to the basket — when he did, his rim decisions were not great.

What the Bucks did great was they switched pick and rolls to cut off the outlet of kicking out to Vucevic on the perimeter in pick and rolls. That effectively neutered Fultz’s effectiveness. The Magic were searching for their pace and rhythm the entire game.

"“They definitely picked up their pressure and intensity, especially the guards,” D.J. Augustin said after practice Friday. “Just trying to make it hard for us to get the ball and get into our offense. They did a good job. I give them credit. But we have to be ready to accept that and be aggressive as well and attack just as we did in Game 1.”"

Orlando needs player and ball movement to be successful offensively. Milwaukee defended cuts and dribble handoffs very effectively in Game 2. Someone has to get the Magic into their offense quicker and catch the defense before it gets set. Fultz has to handle the pressure a whole lot better. How he plays early especially likely will determine a good chunk of this game.

Next. Orlando Magic have confidence, but plenty of work remains. dark

Game 3 is Saturday at 1 p.m. The series is tied 1-1.