A disappointing fourth quarter from the Orlando Magic handed the Milwaukee Bucks a huge first-round advantage as they took a 3-1 series lead.
The Orlando Magic knew they had to take Game 4 to stay in the series. They fought well against the number one seed for large parts of the game before the Milwaukee Bucks took charge in the fourth quarter.
But the final 12 minutes proved to be the difference. And the Magic again had no answers when the Bucks started to get rolling.
Khris Middleton broke out of his shooting slump — he was 1 for 9 entering the quarter — to score 18 in the final frame. He helped charge an 18-2 run that turned a spirited Magic effort into a frustrating near blowout defeat.
The Magic suddenly found themselves down 16 and scrambling to come back, using a small lineup with their only available shooters to try to make up ground.
They got it to seven and then Giannis Antetokounmpo took over, making sure everyone remembered he was still around.
The Magic had the spirit and the fight rallying on several occasions to stay in the game. But they ran out of time. Milwaukee took a commanding 3-1 series lead with a 121-106 victory Monday.
Much of the focus before the game was on the Magic needing to start well following defeats in Games 2 and 3 but Steve Clifford’s team did not make any of their first six attempts, a run which was stopped when Markelle Fultz stole the ball for a clear run to the basket.
Milwaukee’s offensive rebounding has proven a headache for the Magic and it was no different early in game four as Gary Clark tried as best he could to deal with the reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Orlando once again set up to defend the paint and stop Antetokounmpo dominating, but the Bucks dished out the ball well and sunk several threes. Both teams still struggled to shoot the ball as the Magic kept within four at the end of the first quarter.
Both teams picked up offensively in the second, Gary Clark continuing to shoot well from beyond the arc and stepping up in Aaron Gordon’s absence. But turnovers, which have proven an issue for the Magic over the series, again caused problems, Milwaukee making their opponents pay for some sloppy possessions.
Nikola Vucevic continued his outstanding postseason, ending the half with 16 points including three 3-pointers. Orlando was certainly game to fight. But the Bucks had every big play to keep them seemingly at bay. A deep Wesley Matthews three ensured the Bucks kept a six-point advantage at the break.
The third quarter began as the second had ended, Matthews connecting with a three. But after the Eastern Conference leaders built up a nine-point lead early on, the Magic put a strong run together to take a one-point advantage at the first timeout thanks to Markelle Fultz’s second three of the game.
Fultz drove the Magic forward with his energy and pace all game long, surging towards the basket for an and-one play as both teams continued to hit back at each other in a closely fought contest. Milwaukee would edge ahead right at the end of the third, Giannis making his first three of the game to make it 84-81.
Mike Budenholzer’s team continued to do a great job of making threes at the start and end of quarters as Kyle Korver and Khris Middleton helped the Bucks to a nine-point lead after just 90 seconds of the final 12 minutes. It would soon extend to 19, the Magic struggling to get anything going offensively.
Khris Middleton has not been at his best during the series but showed his All-Star status in the fourth, making several tough shots to hand Milwaukee a huge first-round advantage despite a late effort from Nikola Vucevic.
Orlando fought hard and gave itself a chance to win. But the one devastating run in the fourth quarter proved more than enough to settle the score and change the game, perhaps even burying the Magic in this series.
NIKOLA VUCEVICC, Orlando Magic
The Bucks are still seemingly happy to let Vucevic shoot from the perimeter. But he has done a fantastic job facilitating the offense and finding space. He has always made himself available to score and been the safety valve for the team. It was a bonus with how well he played defensively, helping keep the Bucks largely out of the paint and supporting the wall to stop Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Without Vucevic, Orlando would not have come close to the Milwaukee Bucks at all in this series. He ties the offense together with his smart movements and stellar shooting and continues to justify his worth to this franchise.
EVAN FOURNIERG/F, Orlando Magic
But his defense also needed work. Evan Fournier lost track of shooters off the ball on several occasions. Then in the fourth quarter, needing him to step up and slow down Khris Middleton in an offense-only lineup, he struggled to slow down. Fournier did not have the size to stop him, but mistake after mistake only makes things worse.
Fournier ended the game with 12 points off 4-for-14 shooting and looks to be very low on confidence. He said after the game that he is very frustrated with his performance, crediting the Milwaukee Bucks’ defense and also blaming his own lack of rhythm. He understands he is not giving the team what it needs. It was vital that all the Magic’s key players contributed during this series but that simply has not been the case with the 6-foot-7 shooting guard.
MARKELLE FULTZPG, Orlando Magic
His three-point shooting percentage has been encouraging during the series. Despite still not taking shots from beyond the arc at a high rate, he made two of his four threes and looks to be more comfortable shooting the open shot from deep.
The only thing that let him down was his turnovers, losing the ball three times. Fultz still did a lot on both ends of the floor. He was aggressive defending Eric Bledsoe and helping and pinching down on Giannis Antetokounmpo. He controlled the tempo of the game, giving the Magic’s offense a chance to get good looks against this tough defense.
GARY CLARKF, Orlando Magic
The 25-year-old has been thrown in to deal with one of the most difficult defensive assignments in the league in Giannis Antetokounmpo but has coped admirably, as well as proving to be a valuable contributor on the offensive end. The Magic again set up their wall well and forced Antetokounmpo into tough decisions and turnovers.
Clark shot 4 for 8 in the game, all from 3-point range. The strength and height advantage Antetokounmpo holds over Clark is evident and there is only so much he can do to keep the reigning MVP from scoring, but he has certainly held his own in a tough matchup and has done himself no harm at all when it comes to being considered next season.
MILWAUKEE BUCKSMIL leads 3-1, Game 4: Wednesday
A big talking point about Milwaukee during this playoff series has been Khris Middleton’s struggles. He again looked out of sorts for the majority of the game but lit up in the fourth quarter to drive his team to the win and finished with 21 points, scoring 18 in the fourth quarter.
There was little to separate the teams for a long time but Milwaukee made the big shots in the big moments, most notably a Wesley Matthews three to end the second quarter and a Giannis three to conclude the third. This has not been an easy first round for the Bucks to navigate and they will be hoping to wrap up the series as soon as possible and see the back of the Magic.
The Milwaukee Bucks lead the best-of-seven series 3-1. Game 4 is scheduled for Wednesday at 4 p.m.