The Orlando Magic erased a 17-point deficit in the fourth quarter and took home a crucial and impressive victory to sweep the Washington Wizards.
The honeymoon was over. The Orlando Magic’s fantastic start hit a dose of reality in the first three quarters of their game against the Washington Wizards.
The defensive issues — both defending the pick and roll and getting out to the 3-point line — were all coming to roost. Their shots finally stopped falling. Their apparent lack of ball movement hurting them in significant ways.
And all this against a Washington Wizards team playing without Russell Westbrook. The Magic seemed to be losing an opportunity to stake a claim over a big division rival and gain a huge advantage for a playoff trip to come.
Down by 17 points in the fourth quarter, their efforts were built piece by piece.
Michael Carter-Williams scored six quick points to spark a 10-0 run and plant the seeds for belief. Cole Anthony drew a charge and went hard-charging for rebounds to keep things mixed up and give the team a chance.
Then it suddenly started to click. The Magic, who could not defend a pick and roll to save their lives for three quarters, started to get deflections and play with intensity and activity. The Wizards started missing shots.
Like Orlando has throughout this season, the team made plays down the stretch.
After both Markelle Fultz and Nikola Vucevic missed shots in the final two minutes that allowed the Wizards to build back up a three-point lead. They both scored again. Markelle Fultz hit a lay up on a nasty step-through past Raul Neto. Then Nikola Vucevic hit a running hook around Thomas Bryant to give the Magic a one-point lead again.
From there, Nikola Vucevic finally got a good contest on Bradley Beal to get the stop and the Magic held on, soon expanding their lead in the final 30 seconds to seven for a 120-113 win.
The final result was a testament to the Magic’s willingness to fight — a 43-19 fourth quarter was extremely impressive. The three quarters before it were a testament to how much work the team still has left to do.
Washington shot 48.5-percent from the floor — 54.2-percent through three quarters. The Wizards scored 52 of their 66 points in the paint through three quarters. Washington made a living driving into the lane and getting to the basket.
About the only thing saving the Magic was Terrence Ross’ hot shooting and the team’s ability to get to the foul line, where they made 37 of 38 foul shots. Orlando was just very imprecise. And while the effort might have been, the attention to detail and rotations were extremely poor.
The team is 3-0 for the first time since the 2010 season, but there is still a lot to work on. The Magic are executing well down the stretch to pull out wins. But the team will have some work to do when they get back together and when they play again.
Markelle Fultz has looked like a different player in the early part of the 2021 season. He is playing with a lot more aggression and bounce, willing to force the issue and direct his team. He has had no qualms about driving into the lane and trying to create something near the rim. Fultz has been willing to stir the drink this year.
Late in games, especially, that has been prevalent and effective. The Magic have turned to Fultz to let him create and, more importantly, score. Fultz has continued to just be a driver and engine for this team.
Fultz did all of that and more in Sunday’s game. He scored a career-high 26 points on 11-for-21 shooting. He only had two assists, but he was doing plenty of moving, although this game he was certainly preferring to score. Fultz has displayed an array of finishes and he has already staked a bigger role in this game.
The Orlando Magic do not win Sunday night without Michael Carter-Williams. It was the biggest six points (3-for-3 shooting), six rebounds, three assists and two steals that anyone has ever seen. Carter-Williams is not building his name on his statistics. It was how he got those points and the momentum he helped build with that second unit.
Carter-Williams scored six quick points to start the fourth quarter and that seemed to calm everything down for the Magic. The fact one of those was a pull-up jumper kind of hinted that this might end up being Orlando’s night to come back.
But Carter-Williams’ biggest contribution came on the defensive end. He helped check Bradley Beal in the fourth quarter as the primary defender against him. Losing Beal’s ability to attack the basket suddenly gummed up the Wizards’ offense. Carter-Williams was a major catalyst in the win.
Evan Fournier has the main call on Bradley Beal throughout the night and just did not step up to the plate defensively. That is less about Beal’s stat line — 29 points, 10-for-29 shooting, 0-for-7 shooting from deep. Beal did not have his cleanest game. It is more about how Beal was getting his basket and how that fed the entire Wizards defense.
Evan Fournier was by no means the only Orlando Magic player who struggled defensively. The entire team struggled to contain ball handlers until the fourth quarter. Too often the entire group got sucked into the paint and gave up open threes or rotations were simply late.
Fournier was still reliable offensively, although this was probably his worst of the three games so far. He scored 19 points on 4-for-10 shooting, making 9 of his 10 free throws (yes, he had the one free throw miss). Fournier wanted to be better defensively this year and so far has not shown it.
Nikola Vucevic is still getting his footing and understanding how he has to rotate and change with the Orlando Magic blitzing and hedging screens more. But more than that, the Magic have started to go back to putting him on an island with poor perimeter defense. That makes Vucevic look a lot worse, although he was still often late on his defensive rotations.
Vucevic usually holds that off with efficient offense. And while Vucevic still put up his numbers — 15 points, eight rebounds and four assists Sunday — getting there is still a task. Vucevic is hanging around the perimeter more and that is by design to open up the paint. It has helped the Magic’s offense tremendously. But Vucevic’s effectiveness is still greatest around the basket.
That is where Vucevic hit the go-ahead basket. Although, even that was a struggle with Thomas Bryant playing some solid defense on him down the stretch. The results are the results and that is what matters. But even with all the continuity and familiarity, the Magic are putting all the pieces together and figuring out their new roles.
The Washington Wizards needed a better effort to even their weekend series with the Orlando Magic, especially without Russell Westbrook. The Wizards felt they let one get away with their inability to make plays down the stretch. But they were chasing the Magic all night Saturday.
They came out with a better effort in this return match Sunday. They took the lead with their starters beating the Magic’s starters in both the first and third quarters. But the Wizards’ lack of depth became apparent. Terrence Ross tore up the Wizards defense in both halves and the Magic made their push back into the game.
Then once again, the Wizards could not make plays down the stretch. That is something star players are supposed to be able to do. And that might be the biggest shortcoming from Bradley Beal through the first two games. Washington has a style that can put up a ton of points. And the Wizards had their chances to win. But they let things go again.
Orlando is now 3-0 for the first time since the 2009-10 season. The Orlando Magic will go for their first-ever 4-0 start against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday.