The Orlando Magic were more than on the ropes in sudden-death double overtime. Every possession had some extra weight and R.J. Hampton was already caught on the wrong end.
R.J. Hampton went for a steal on Keon Ellis on an inbounds and got caught overleveraged and behind him. Ellis was on a beeline for the basket. He saw Emanuel Terry stepping up to cut him off and sought the lob for Nemias Queta.
This was the game. A basket and it was over.
Paolo Banchero, someone noted for being a bit flat-footed and lethargic in two Summer League games so far, sprung quickly into action.
Banchero caught up to Queta as he went up for a dunk. He got a hand on the ball and was able to knock it away for a humongous game-saving block. The officials would review it after calling the foul and determined Banchero got it clean, an incredible play no matter the situation, but even bigger considering the stakes.
The ball was in Banchero’s hands on every clutch play the Magic could — the offense simply did not work without him and the Kings kept the ball away from him as they erased a 17-point fourth-quarter deficit to tie the game on back-to-back threes in the final seven seconds of regulation.
Banchero turned it over on his first try in the sudden-death overtime. He nearly did again.
But Banchero gathered the ball that Sacramento had briefly knocked away from him. And he spotted Terry underneath the basket. Banchero fired the ball to him and Terry calmly shook the defense and made the game-winning layup for a 94-92 victory.
Paolo Banchero added to his legend stepping up with two game-saving plays as the Orlando Magic saw their young forward find a way to will the Magic to a win.
Everyone could breathe a sigh of relief after a frantic final three minutes that saw the Kings erase that double-digit deficit. Everyone could breathe a sigh of relief knowing what Banchero looks like in a close-game situation. Everyone might breathe a sigh of relief knowing what a Banchero game might look like when he is struggling with his shot.
What everyone certainly learned some about Banchero and about this Magic team and culture is what happens when this team does take a punch. And how they might react when the stakes are the highest.
"“It’s added intensity and added pressure when the whole crowd is clapping and standing up as you have the ball,” Banchero said after Saturday’s game. “That’s stuff you dream of. An arena where the whole crowd’s eyes are on you. You just want that moment. That’s what I live for.”"
Banchero certainly is not shy about the big moments. that was one of his hallmarks from his time at Duke. He never shied from having the ball late.
And he stepped up in the biggest moment for Orlando — on both ends of the floor.
This was not a picture-perfect game for Banchero by any means.
He finished with 23 points, six rebounds, six assists, four steals and two blocks, filling up his score line and putting his fingerprints all over the game. But he made only 6 of his 15 shots and had eight turnovers.
It was his four turnovers that he noted most during a first-quarter interview with the ESPN broadcast. Banchero had plenty of mistakes — it was his inbound pass to Hampton that was intercepted leading to the game-tying goal and then he had another turnover to open the second overtime.
"“Summer League I’m using it to just try stuff,” Banchero said after Saturday’s game. “Obviously, not to the point where it is detrimental to the team. But trying new things. My jumper wasn’t falling, bad turnovers, but I had to figure it out and gut it out with passes and getting to the free-throw line.”"
There was a lot to figure out as some of the aspects of his game from Thursday were not working.
Banchero was much more aggressive looking for his shot than he was in the first game. He got to the line for 11 free throws, showing his aggression and determination to get to the basket, much more than he did in the first game against the Houston Rockets.
Teams understand just how good he is with his footwork in the post able to get by defenders and get to the basket. He is seeing constant double teams and pressures as he tries to set himself up and get to his spots.
Even in a game where Banchero showed some of the areas he will continue to have to work, he still was the central focus of the game on both ends. Everything revolved around him.
Orlando is certainly putting the ball in his hands more and more. The team wants everything running through him and if there is anything the team understands about him at this point, it is that he is an excellent passer and playmaker and that he is going to look to make the right play.
Even if that means passing up on the biggest shots of the game.
"“I love that he’s looking to pass,” Magic Summer League coach Jesse Mermuys said after Saturday’s game. “As a young person in his first two Summer League games and the game is on the line looking to share the basketball and sacrifice all that attention he’s getting to get someone a shot is really impressive. I tip my hat off to that. And obviously, that block was a big-time play. A big-time player made a big-time play.”"
That unselfish attitude certainly cuts against the grain of some of the pre-draft talk. If anything, Banchero should have been aggressive and looking to score on his first double-overtime possession instead of passing it into a turnover.
That is always a struggle for any player to learn when to be the star. Especially when they are naturally for their team. Banchero has certainly shown his ability from his time at Duke to step up in the biggest moments.
Summer League is still very much about testing a team’s young players and figuring out the beginnings of their breaking points. It is about trying to expose their players to different situations to see how they will react.
Orlando is already learning a lot about Banchero.
"“He’s special. He’s special,” Devin Cannady said after Saturday’s game. “And having the ability to be on the floor with him just to see how he moves and how he thinks. In crunch time for him to make the right play and have confidence in me, I tell him anything you need, you feel presssure, I’ll relieve it by making shots. In that moment, making that play, that’s very mature. Veterans don’t make that play. He’s growing in these two games. He looks real good and it’s great to be on the floor with him.”"
Certainly, one thing the team saw Saturday was Banchero’s competitiveness and his determination to win. When the game was on the line, he shook off the shock of how the team got there and even some of his own failures and struggles and made the big plays that mattered.
Banchero was a big part of why the Magic won on Saturday. He is the center of everything the team did. And he clinched the victory for his team in the end.