The Orlando Magic trailed by as much as 25 points but fought until the end in a 123-115 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies at the Amway Center.
A slow start in the second quarter put the Magic in the hole early as Memphis built a 22-point cushion with a 65-43 lead at halftime.
The Grizzlies’ Jaren Jackson Jr. had a monster half, scoring 18 points with seven rebounds and three blocks, which came in the first quarter. Ja Morant had a qiuet half with 11 points and four assist, but the superstar would save his best for last.
In the third quarter, Memphis pushed its lead to 25, but the Magic slowly cut down the lead.
The quarter would prove to be the Paolo Banchero show.
The rookie scored 20 points in the quarter on 7-for-9 shooting from the field. And Terrence Ross would lend some help, knocking down back-to-back threes to close the third and energize the Amway Center crowd.
Heading into the fourth, Memphis led by 14 and even increased its lead to 19 to start the quarter. After only scoring three points all game, Franz Wagner would come alive to score 19 fourth-quarter points.
Next thing you know, Orlando cut the lead to six with 1:45 remaining in the game. But Morant would drive into the lane and draw a foul. He knocked down both free throws and the score was 122-114.
Wagner made it to the line on the other end and knocked down one of two free throws. Memphis missed the next position. With 46 seconds remaining, the Magic still had a chance. But Fultz missed a driving layup and Morant then knocked down one of two free throws.
And with 26 seconds remaining in regulation, Banchero threw up a final three-point shot, which bricked off the rim and Memphis proceeded to dribble out the clock.
Orlando had run out of time.
A fight it was after most of the Magic players struggled for most of the game. Orlando, however, stayed the course, even though it was too little too for the team.
Paolo Banchero — A
Paolo Banchero is the gift that keeps giving. The No. 1 pick in last June’s draft is proving to be a budding superstar. Banchero started the game slow, scoring eight points and shooting 2 for 9 from the field in the first half.
But the 6-foot-10 forward erupted in the third quarter. Banchero scored the Magic’s first 10 points in the quarter and finished with 20 overall in the period. At one stretch, he knocked down back-to-back threes. Banchero got hot and proved the value of having a star-caliber player.
He finished the game with his fourth 30-point outing and was a major lift for a Magic team that needed some shot-making to get some energy.
Franz Wagner — B+
Franz Wagner was a non-factor through three quarters. He was not looking for his shot offensively and did not make much impact on the game.
But that all changed in the fourth quarter. After a couple of free throws and a runner, he was then feeling it. He led the charge in the Magic’s fourth-quarter comeback and nearly got the Magic over that hump and back into the game.
Wagner finished with 22 points on 6-for-10 shooting and 8-for-10 shooting from the foul line. He scored 19 of those 22 points in the fourth quarter giving the Magic a real scoring threat and tons of momentum to finish the game.
The Magic have not just one, but two budding stars in Wagner and Banchero.
Terrence Ross — B+
Terrence Ross has struggled for most of the season. But he seems to be finding his rhythm again. The 10-year veteran scored 14 against the Memphis Grizzlies and made 4 for 6 from the three. He helped the Magic close out the first quarter with a contested three. His back-to-back threes in the final minutes of the third quarter helped keep the Magic’s hopes alive.
In the last two games, Ross has shot the ball well. Wednesday night against the Oklahoma City Thunder, he scored 18 and knocked down 3 of 4 three-pointers. Orlando needs Ross to keep his hot streak going to help the team win games and raise his trade value.
Cole Anthony — D
Cole Anthony had an abysmal game and the group that he led in the second quarter gave up much of the Orlando Magic’s chances to stay in this one and steal a win against one of the Western Conference’s elite teams.
The third-year guard could not get it going offensively. Anthony finished the game with four points, two assists and two rebounds. He missed all eight of his shot attempts, which include five missed three-pointers.
More importantly, he finished with a -16 plus/minus, struggling to get the team’s offense clicking as the Magic got outscored 43-23 in the second quarter, putting the team in a deep hold to climb out of the rest of the game. The bench group just did not have it on either end.
The combo guard’s missed three-point attempts came early in the shot clock and killed any ounce of momentum the Magic could gain. Anthony has not scored in double-digits in the last four games, but he is more than capable.
Memphis Grizzlies — A
The Memphis Grizzlies played to their strength and attacked the basket, scoring 64 points in the paint to the Orlando Magic’s 40.
Also, Memphis’ best players came to play. Ja Morant led all scorers with 32 points. Anytime the Grizzlies needed a basket, he was there to deliver.
From the outset of the game too, Jaren Jackson Jr. was a force on both ends. He made an immediate impact in the first quarter with three blocks. Jackson scoring a season-high 31 points was crucial in Memphis securing the victory.
The Magic will head out west and start a five-game road trip Saturday as they faceoff against the Golden State Warriors at the Chase Center.