Devin Cannady had one of the most difficult tasks any player can have in a close game.
He was fouled on a potential game-tying three in overtime. His ability to make those free throws would determine whether the game would continue and whether the Magic would have a chance to win.
Even under normal circumstances, stepping up to the foul line and making all three free throws in that situation is not a given. Even for great free throw shooters, making all three is a difficult task.
Cannady was under pressure to save the game. He said he had only one mindset. Just make the first one.
Deep breaths, take each shot in turn. You cannot make all three if you do not make the first, then the second and the third.
Cannady is an expert shooter and has always been a great free-throw shooter. The only question for Cannady at the foul line was not whether he could make them but whether he could make them under those circumstances — with the whole crowd at Thomas & Mack Center watching, with the whole NBA world watching and with the Sacramento Kings’ crazed rally that sent the game to overtime.
The Orlando Magic withstood a crazed rally from the Sacramento Kings in their first bit of adversity during this Summer League. They had their struggles, but they pulled through to learn that lesson.
The Orlando Magic did not face much adversity in their Summer League-opening win over the Houston Rockets. They took control early and never really looked back. The game was a celebration of Paolo Banchero and all he could be — along with standout performances from Devin Cannady and Caleb Houstan.
This game became full of adversity and the Magic needed to see how their young players would respond.
"“We had shown the last game, we let off the gas a little bit,” Summer League coach Jesse Mermuys said after Saturday’s game. “I was trying to explain to them that the NBA game is never over. We had given up on some plays late when we had a lead in that first game. Anything can spark something like what just happened. It was nice we were put in that situation and we were able to react the right way.”"
In some areas, they struggled. They gave up a 17-point fourth-quarter lead and a late eight-point lead with several meltdown plays. The kind of plays that inevitably lead to these kind of “impossible” losses.
But they also gathered themselves in time to eke out the win.
Regardless of how it happened, there was a lot of tape for Mermuys and the team to review. And plenty to learn from that will make them better down the road.
That is ultimately what Summer League is about.
And ultimately, the team showed what it could do against that adversity. For all the negative that came from the team’s struggles in the final minutes of that game, there were still the positives of finishing the game.
Paolo Banchero made plenty of mistakes — it was his turnover that led to Keegan Murray’s game-tying three to force overtime and he turned it over trying to make a pass on the first possession of sudden-death overtime. But he also recovered.
Everyone is talking about his incredible block on Nemias Queta to stop a dunk attempt and preserve the Magic’s chance to win the game. That was the play Mermuys was talking about after the game.
The same could be said about the way he closed the game and clinched the win. Banchero lost the ball misjudging when the help defense would come. But he recovered in time to find Emmanuel Terry beneath the basket.
Terry too bounced back from a poor play.
In regulation, the Magic were up six with Terry on the foul line. He missed both free throws, following a big block to preserve the Magic’s lead on the previous possession, keeping that door slightly open.
A lot of Magic players had reasons to fold and reasons to put their heads down. But they really stuck with the game.
"“As a unit we just talked about there are going to be moments where we are getting too high, getting too low,” Cannady said after Saturday’s game. “How can we stay neutral and focus on our principles? This game was a prime example of trying to stay poised, trying to stay together. I think the expectation is to get better, have fun playing, play the right way and I think we did that more or less.”"
This was indeed something the team was preparing for but needed to experience to pass this test for themselves.
Mermuys said during the film session the team talked about how they really did not face much adversity in the first game against the Rockets. They reviewed in the film session how they let off the gas pedal some later in the game and how that left the door open for teams to make a run on them.
Maybe they did not expect something like this, but the lesson certainly hit home after Saturday night. This was a necessary learning experience.
In the NBA, nothing is ever over. And your response is just as important as the build up.
"“I’m really proud they were able to respond and basically do the game plan we had talked about, staying with it, staying mentally tough, staying together, not dropping their energy,” Mermuys said after Saturday’s game. “Really impressive for young men. I’m super proud.”"
Winning the game probably makes everyone feel a bit better about things. It is easier to learn and accept lessons after a win than it is after a loss.
But the lesson needs to be absorbed no matter the circumstance. Especially in the Summer League setting where there are so many players fighting for so much.
The Magic will surely face some more adversity in their time in Summer League. There will be moments like this once the regular season begins too.
It is good to get this understanding now. And it will be even more important to respond with better focus in their next game.