Orlando Magic give home opening crowd a hint of what they will become

Paolo Banchero put in another solid scoring performance as he and the Orlando Magic continue to put together their pieces to win. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports
Paolo Banchero put in another solid scoring performance as he and the Orlando Magic continue to put together their pieces to win. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports /

18. 120. 38. Final. 126

There were all these flashes that hint at the future the Orlando Magic believe they will have.

A scrappy play from Kevon Harris, Chuma Okeke, Cole Anthony or Bol Bol sprinkled in with the scoring flashes from Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner. Often one energy play leads to another. The team did not play well defensively all night, but they stayed in the game. Things never got bad.

The Orlando Magic were here to play and they made sure the Boston Celtics knew it in front of a sold-out Amway Center eager to see this future play out.

They traded punches with the Celtics for 48 minutes.

Boston made 13 3-pointers in the first half, Orlando found a way to answer. The Celtics tried to pull away, the Magic reeled them back in. They were not going to go away against the group that has looked like the best team in the league through three games.

This is who the Magic want to be. A resilient, tough, hard-working team. A tough out and a tougher team to crack. They want to keep teams off balance and put pressure on them at every turn defensively with their length as much as they want to force action into the paint offensively to kick out to their growing shooters.

As a show for the fans in their first regular season game at Amway Center, the Magic gave fans plenty of reasons to be invested in this group and their growth. The question though that comes out of a game like this is when that time will come.

The Orlando Magic showed all the hints of what is coming for this young team. But again the pieces are not together enough as the Boston Celtics got out with the win.

Perhaps that is the only drawback to what the Magic are starting to build — the impatience of waiting for it to get here. This Magic team has not arrived, as they showed in a 126-120 loss at the Amway Center on Saturday.

Terrence Ross brought a bit of the past with 29 points. But Banchero impressed again with 23 points and Franz Wagner had 18 as the Magic kept grinding to stay in a game where their defense could not get shots and gave up far too many 3-pointers.

In critical moments in the fourth quarter, the Magic put the ball in Banchero’s hands, trusting the rookie to make a good decision with the ball and get them back into the game. He largely delivered.

But at the end of the day, this was still a loss. Another fourth quarter where the opponent just got away.

A tough learning lesson for a young team that has already seen three games get away from them.

"“As much as it hurts to lose a game, the learning experience is amazing,” Ross said after Saturday’s game. “We’ve played some really good teams. Atlanta and Boston, they were both close for the majority of the game. We’ve just got to build on that going forward. I think all in all it’s going to give us confidence and let us know we can compete with anybody.”"

The Magic are indeed showing they can compete. That is an important step after last season. Now comes doing it consistently enough to end up on the right side at the end.

For every play where Chuma Okeke dug out an offensive rebound to set up a 3-pointer or Cole Anthony dove out of bounds to save a possession and set up a three, there was Derrick White coming off a dribble handoff with an open lane in front of him for a jam — a critical one at that which put the Celtics up seven points with a minute to play.

There was Jayson Tatum going off for 40 points and seeming doing whatever he wanted with very little resistance — not that anyone can stop Tatum regularly anyway.

There were too many times where the Celtics, as a whole, just scored with ease.

It all adds up to a team that undoubtedly has a ton of talent and a bright future ahead of it. But one that is not quite ready for the spotlight. A Magic team that is still learning how to compete on a nightly basis, get on the same page and make the plays late in the game.

"“We’ve been fighting every game,” Banchero said after Saturday’s loss. “Everybody has been playing for each other and playing as a team. Everyone is playing to win. That’s encouraging. Every game has been a fight. We’ve got to do the little things down the stretch to get the wins.”"

Like a puppy still going through training, the team listens to commands on occasion but can still get easily distracted. They do not always do what they need to do.

It could be something big like a missed defensive rotation or lunging for a steal that opens up a hole behind them. It could be something small like a hurried shot or wild drive into the lane or even an overpass to try to make a bigger play rather than the simple play.

Orlando focused its efforts on doing better protecting the ball after turning it over through the fourth quarter in Atlanta. The team was successful at that, committing only nine for 14 points for the game. But then another problem arose that the team will undoubtedly have to work on next.

The pieces of the puzzle have not come together fully.

These are the lessons the Magic are trying to learn this year and trying to improve upon. It is still clear from their first three games that this will remain a work in progress. Orlando still has a lot to learn.

Boston is a team that understands all of this and understands it well.

"“That is an elite Boston team,” coach Jamahl Mosley said after Saturday’s game. “There is a reason they went to the Finals last year. they are physical, they are tough, they are tied together. What I love about what we did was our effort, our energy together, the resiliency of staying the court no matter what was happening within the game.”"

The Celtics did not play up to their defensive standards. Yet they never seemed bothered. They fought through their mistakes and stayed in control, taking the Magic’s every punch. There was never a doubt no matter how much the Magic could bother them or how much they cooled off that they would find their way.

At the critical moments of the game, they knew they could trust each other to be in the right spots and to make the right plays. They can trust their execution.

This is something the Magic do not have yet. That has been clear through their first three games, all close games Orlando has failed to pull through.

But this is all a learning experience for the team to grow from. They know it as much as anyone else.

Those threads are all there to pick up though. They are all there for the team to bring together.

"“The biggest thing that all of our guys show is the positive to get better,” Ross said after Saturday’s game. “We’re all definitely kind of upset with the otucome. Going forward, this will be good to draw on and to look back on to see what we can do better. These young guys are picking up quick. We are playing much better than we did last year. You can feel it when you’re out there. It’s baby steps.”"

The question should not be if they can put things together and make all these various hints something far more permanent, but when. Ross said he believes the team is on the cusp of that breakthrough.

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When they are able to do that, it will be quite a show. A show that was only previewed in Saturday’s home opening game.