The Orlando Magic rallied to defeat the Cleveland Cavaliers yet again. But the season-ending injury to Markelle Fultz made it a frustrating evening.
How were the Orlando Magic supposed to continue? How were they supposed to rally again?
Images of the bubble flashed through their minds again when Jonathan Isaac went down with a torn ACL. The same deafening roar of pain, the same familiar sight of a player clutching his knee on the floor.
How is a team supposed to play on and find the energy to carry on? Much less win?
Four minutes into Wednesday’s 105-94 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Orlando Magic saw their future go down in a heap yet again.
Markelle Fultz drove through the lane and appeared to bump knees with Isaac Okoro. But the injury looked much worse than the incidental contact with another player. He screamed in pain and held his left knee, leaving everyone to fear the worst.
Fultz needed assistance to leave the court and return to the locker room. The team would announce shortly after the game ended that an MRI confirmed Fultz had torn his ACL in his left knee:
It felt like everything the Magic had worked so hard to build had collapsed again.
That is not how things work. The Magic did not stop just because they lost their point guard. They turned to rookie Cole Anthony and gave him plenty of support to run the offense. They got down and defended, holding the Cavaliers to 42.4-percent shooting and just 4-for-26 shooting from beyond the arc.
They moved the ball on offense and made shots in rhythm, relying on their passing — 20 assists on their 40 field goal makes — and hot 3-point shooting (12 for 29, 41.4-percent).
The Magic pulled ahead in the second quarter and never really let go. Dwayne Bacon drove the lane and finished at the rim. Nikola Vucevic put on display his variety of post moves. Terrence Ross put on his usual scoring show.
Everyone did their role. They stepped up in a big way, taking firm and full control in the third quarter just as they did in Monday’s win over the same Cavaliers squad.
It did not completely dull the frustration and hurt the team was feeling for Fultz’s injury. There will still be the aftermath to deal with the injury. And the team will have to adjust and change how it plays without him.
But for now, the Magic played a third straight solid defensive game. And while the offense still had moments where it got stuck, the team found its rhythm on that end again too. The team was starting to pull some pieces together and look a bit more refreshed too.
How much this team will be able to carry that over and continue to improve are still a bit of a mystery.
This was no Pyrrhic victory. The Magic won the game even with Fultz out. But they still have their work to do to figure out how to play without their budding young star for the rest of the season.
Who else were the Orlando Magic going to count on to give them energy after the injury they had to witness and fight through? Terrence Ross has been changing the energy and temperature for the Magic the last three seasons. And when the team needed an energy boost Ross was there yet again.
Ross scored a game-high 20 points on a tidy 6-for-9 shooting, making his first five 3-pointers and five of six overall. That is the typical Ross game. He came out firing and seemed content to shoot throughout the game. Who was going to stop him?
The only nit to pick with Ross was his five fouls. He got a little jumpy and got caught in some bad guarding positions at various points in the game. But he was on fire and the energy he provided, including 11 points in the second quarter to ignite the Magic.
Nikola Vucevic has continued his All-Star-level season with another strong performance even on a day he did not have his best. He scored 16 points to go with seven rebounds and six assists. He took over at least some of the playmaking role left vacant by Markelle Fultz.
The Cleveland Cavaliers playing zone for much of the game probably helped in that respect too. The Magic did a good job finding Vucevic at the top of the key or in the middle of the zone and he picked the Cavs’ defense apart from there. This was a clinic from Vucevic.
Vucevic picked his game up offensively. But he ended up shooting 7 for 18 from the floor. He had plenty of frustration early in the game with several misses. But by the time the second half rolled around, he was hitting tough shots and keeping Andre Drummond completely off balance.
The Orlando Magic were already putting a lot on Cole Anthony because of all their injuries beforehand. Now that level has only increased. The Magic need Anthony to step up in a bigger way and become a more efficient scorer. Anthony would even admit that as he knows he needs to shoot better.
Anthony did fine in this game. There were no glaring errors or mistakes. The Magic are still working to minimize his missteps and run the offense through others too. So Anthony still has some kid’s gloves on him. But he will have to change his scoring some — eight points on 4-for-12 shooting, including 0-for-4 shooting from beyond the arc.
The Magic though have to feel confident he can get there through his work and competitiveness. Anthony again was active defensively, drawing another charge and blocking Collin Sexton once again. He has done well to brush off any mistakes and stay confident. And he is going to continue to be an asset for this team.
With everyone moving up a slot in the point guard depth chart, that gave the chance for two-way player Jordan Bone to get meaningful minutes for the first time. There were virtually no expectations for the speedy point guard and it still feels like a bit of a wild card to see what he will give the team.
The first game was certainly promising. He finished with seven points on 3-for-4 shooting overall. Jordan Bone displayed a nice, compact shot and the ability and confidence to shoot off the dribble. That will be a good start for the young guard.
It is still too early to get any real sense of what Bone can do. Now he will have to step up into a new role and provide the Magic some kind of lift. If he can prove to be a good organizer and shooter to help set up Terrence Ross and the second unit, he will be valuable to the team. This first effort was a solid one to start.
The Cleveland Cavaliers’ hot start officially seems to be over. The Cavaliers still have some things to work with, but their shooting has fallen off a cliff and it is going to be hard to win like this. They shot just 4 for 26 (15.4-percent) from beyond the arc for the game. They struggled even with the open looks they got and the Magic seemed content to let players fire from the outside.
The Cavs actually did a decent job in the paint with 60 points in the paint. But they could never string enough shots together. And Orlando toughened up when the team had to. The Cavs just could not break the Magic. And even with Orlando turning the ball over 16 times for 15 points, Cleveland was unable to take advantage.
Andre Drummond did a good job especially early attacking the glass with 19 points and 15 rebounds. Collin Sexton continued his tear with 21 points. But it was hard for Cleveland to find much offense anywhere else, especially after the team broke the lineup. It was a rough two nights in Orlando.
The Orlando Magic are now 6-2 and second in the Eastern Conference. They return to action on Friday when they head to Texas to take on the Houston Rockets.