The Orlando Magic have been a team that has relied on their defense throughout the season. The Magic pride themselves on that end and playing hard each night. Offense has been a bit inconsistent for the Magic the whole season.
This has been the fight for the team all season. They want to be a defensive team. And it is the foundation of everything that they do.
For this team, even when thing are not working, they have to scrap. And that is what the bench group for this Magic team with the long-limbed Jonathan Isaac, the hard-driving Jalen Suggs and pesky defense from Cole Anthony, not to mention the impossibly limbed Bol Bol give this Magic team.
The Orlando Magic really rallied behind their defense in a back-and-forth, hard-fought game with the Detroit Pistons on Thursday, however, it was their defensive identity that helped them secure a close win.
The Magic’s bench had to show its scrappiness despite its struggles in Thursday’s 108-106 win over the Detroit Pistons to keep the team in the game and give it the energy to get to the finish line.
That was shown on several play but none more than Jalen Suggs’ block on Jaden Ivey with nine minutes to play. It was a true momentum shifter.
His defensive IQ was on full display there as he did a few great things. He jumped over a screen at the top of the key to stick with Cory Joseph. Then he top blocked Ivey on a dribble handoff as he and Anthony switched assignments. Suggs took the challenge of locking up Ivey, on his way to 25 points on 9-for-13 shooting, before recovering on the drive to swat his shot out of bounds.
Plays like that set the tone for the Magic. Plays like that by Suggs are what give the Magic a reason to believe so much in his defensive potential. And how the team can lean on the bench to introduce a bit of defensive chaos.
Orlando’s bench is averaging 36.4 points per game off the bench, 10th in the league. They score a ton. Their defense has been lagging.
But there have been some good defensive indicators. And it starts with Isaac’s return and Suggs’ emergence as an ace defender off the bench.
The bench with Suggs and Isaac, two elite defenders has had something to hang their hat on when the offense is not flowing well. Thursday was a prime example of that. Isaac had a block and two steals on the night.
But that does not tell the entire story.
He was terrific in contesting shots and the Pistons certainly felt his presence around the rim when they attacked the rim. The Pistons, a team with an abundance of big men in Isaiah Stewart, Jalen Duren, and James Wiseman, only had 26 points in the paint on 13-for-31 shooting (only 41.9-percent shooting).
The Magic bench used plays like that to get into their offense to pick up some buckets in transition.
Suggs had an off shooting night as he shot 1 for 8 from the field but his defensive effort was incredible. He was pressing the Pistons guards full court to put pressure and slow them down.
Suggs’ offense is up and down, but one thing is for sure, he will give 100 percent on the defensive end. Whether it is him diving on the floor and risking his body or skying for a rebound. He does all the little things to secure wins.
In the first half, Isaac scored eight quick points after getting into the game with a couple of three-pointers. Isaac continues to knock off rust after returning from his two-and-a-half-year injury, but he continues to look very good on both ends.
Cole Anthony controlled the game very well. He set the pace and did not let the Pistons’ defense rush him. He was under control and made timely shots. He hit three straight 3-pointers, two at the end of the third quarter and the first possession of the fourth quarter that helped Orlando maintain its lead.
He gives that group offensive stability while they put in defensive chaos on the other end
He helped the Magic to keep putting up points on the board in a time where offense was scarce and the Pistons potentially could have pulled away with the game.
The bench’s job is to give some stability. And they have the ability to put some pressure offensively. But defensively, they introduce some element of chaos. They are able to get into their opponent and make those minutes stressful.
Even though they gave away the Magic’s lead late in the third quarter, they were vital to maintaining the lead and handing it off to the starters to finish the job (which they were able to do after some shaky moments).
The bench lineup consists of Cole Anthony, Jalen Suggs, Jonathan Isaac, Moe Wagner and Bol Bol. That lineup has not played much together due to Isaac being injured and sitting back to backs. And the Magic have focused on putting at least one of Franz Wagner or Paolo Banchero on the floor — it is usually Wagner that plays with the bench unit.
The bench-only unit has played 16 minutes together with a 125.8/100.0 split. That 100.0 defensive rating is especially impressive, albeit on a small sample size.
Franz Wagner is often plugged in with the bench unit once Jonathan Isaac sits. That lineup with Wagner subbing in for Isaac has played 92 minutes together and has a +16.7 net rating with a 109.7/93.0 offensive/defensive rating split.
Those are some impressive defensive numbers and show just how chaotic the bench can be.
Thursday was not the bench’s best showing. Every player off the Magic’s bench had a negative plus/minus. They gave up a 15-0 run to give up the lead after the Magic seemed poised to pull away in the third quarter.
But this group has done more than enough throughout the year to carry their weight. And it starts with the chaos the team typically introduced on defense.