A phenomenal third quarter ensured the Orlando Magic ended a two-game losing streak by beating the Cleveland Cavaliers 103-83 at the Amway Center.
After a sloppy first half for both teams which saw the Orlando Magic turn the ball over 12 times and give up 19 points in the process, the team came out in the third quarter with a point to prove.
Markelle Fultz set the tone with a monster dunk early on.
Aaron Gordon took over from there, scoring 13 of his 24 points in the third quarter as the Orlando Magic finally pulled away for a 106-86 victory at the Amway Center, snapping a two-game losing streak.
It was a difficult night for Fultz, who really struggled in the first two quarters when he turned the ball over five times in total. But after the half-time break, he started to take much better care of the basketball and began to find his teammates for some good looks.
It was no coincidence that when Fultz started to find his rhythm, the team was much better off as a result. The Magic outscored the Cavs 38 to 18 in the third which included a 23-6 run thanks to some excellent shooting from Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic.
The team really struggled to shoot in the loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Even when they were wide open, the Magic did not make them pay. But this was a much better shooting display from Orlando, not perfect by any means with a field goal percentage of 43.2 percent, but the 44.1 percent from three helped enormously.
Aaron Gordon was at the center of this. The forward knocked down six of his nine attempts from beyond the arc after really struggling from deep in the first few games of the season. This was the first game Gordon played without a minutes restriction as the team remained wary following his hamstring injury suffered in the bubble.
Orlando played with plenty of confidence and moved the ball well throughout the third. The quarter ended with a fine pull-up three from Dwayne Bacon to stretch the lead to 22, giving the team a huge boost to start the fourth.
Just as important was the effort on the defensive end. While turnovers hurt the team, the Magic outrebounded their opponents 54-36, 36-26 on defense, which helped Steve Clifford’s team stay in control of the game.
The presence of Andre Drummond made it difficult for Orlando to score in the paint with just 34 points scored in the paint during the game, but they did at least manage to restrict Cleveland to only 44. It was vital the Magic did not give up too many easy buckets and, turnovers aside, they did that.
There is still plenty to work on for this team. The first half display will have disappointed Clifford but the way the team responded in the third to put themselves in a comfortable position was very satisfying, as was the way they stayed in control during the fourth despite some early turnovers.
Another positive was the return of center Mohamed Bamba, who managed to get four valuable minutes at the end of the game.
Aaron Gordon has had a steady start to the season as he carefully manages his return following his absence from last season’s playoff series with the Milwaukee Bucks. But this felt like he was well and truly back.
Having struggled with his shooting up until Monday, Gordon was excellent from 3-point range all game long and knocked down six of his nine attempts. Following a dismal shooting effort by the whole team against the Oklahoma City Thunder, seeing the power forward knock down attempts with confidence was hugely encouraging. If he can do this at a decent rate this season, it will help this Orlando Magic team immensely.
The 25-year-old finished with 24 points along with 11 rebounds in 28 minutes. His defense has been excellent since the start of the season and tonight was no different. His ability to switch onto smaller guards or bigger forwards is a huge bonus for this team and he helped the Orlando Magic contain the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The ever consistent Nikola Vucevic once again provided the Orlando Magic with some excellent offensive plays and fine shooting. The center finished with 23 points and eight rebounds and got the better of a good defensive player in Andre Drummond thanks to some top footwork and composure when it came to shooting the ball.
Two of his highlight plays came in the fourth quarter when he backed down his fellow center before hitting a fadeaway, quickly followed by a great turnaround hook which demonstrated his vast skill set.
Nikola Vucevic has been the Magic’s best offensive option under Steve Clifford and that still looks very much the case. His early-season play suggests he could even take another step forward after two really good years in a Magic uniform. His defense is still a vulnerability and Drummond was able to muscle in to score on a few occasions but overall he put in a solid effort which also included three blocks.
Good on defense, horrible on offense. That has been the story of Michael Carter-Williams‘ season so far and he finished with no points, despite doing a good job guarding Collin Sexton early on and helping the team overall with a great defensive effort.
His worst offensive play came in the third quarter when he was presented with an easy finish just underneath the basket but tried a quick floater and got it horribly wrong. Michael Carter-Williams needs to at least be an option on offense when he starts but this simply was not the case.
It is worrying he is continuing to shoot threes despite him clearly not being comfortable doing so and means opposition teams can leave him open to focus on stopping others. Carter-Williams has his strengths. His fine early work guarding Sexton set the tone for a good defensive performance but his poor offense means he can hurt the team more than help it.
With Mohamed Bamba returning, Khem Birch could see his minutes reduced in the near future. But based on his performance tonight it would be difficult for Steve Clifford to justify this. The center did a great job on defense guarding Andre Drummond and matched him for strength inside, protecting the paint and limiting the joy the Cleveland Cavaliers had inside as he finished with 12 rebounds.
He has also established himself as an option on offense. Khem Birch’s range is limited and he is not comfortable shooting far away from the basket like Nikola Vucevic, but his strength and finishing around the rim is a bonus for the team. This was exemplified perfectly when he linked up with Cole Anthony in the third quarter to score a couple of nice buckets.
Birch is an efficient player, going five for seven from the field, and his presence in the paint was again a big help to his teammates.
This is not a night the Cleveland Cavaliers will look back at with any fondness. Both teams were very sloppy in the first two quarters and the Cleveland Cavaliers managed to stay with the Orlando Magic, losing by two at the break. But they completely fell apart in the third, losing track of the Magic on the defensive end and simply not offering enough offensively.
In fairness, this was a weakened Cavaliers team. Dante Exum exited in the first quarter with a calf strain, while they were also without Darius Garland and Isaac Okoro from the start. No doubt all three would have helped the team put in an improved performance against the Magic but their replacements will have done little to stake a claim for a starting spot.
The Cavs ended up shooting a woeful 38.4-percent from the field and struggled from the line too, making just seven of their 12 free throws. They lost the rebound battle despite Drummond’s presence and simply did not defend or shoot well enough to worry the Magic.
The Magic are now 5-2 on the season and second in the Eastern Conference. The Magic and Cavaliers will meet again Wednesday at the Amway Center.