Paolo Banchero’s star ignites again to preview Magic’s future

Paolo Banchero had a 29 point effort including three clutch shots to put away the New Orleans Pelicans in an Orlando Magic win. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports
Paolo Banchero had a 29 point effort including three clutch shots to put away the New Orleans Pelicans in an Orlando Magic win. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports /

101. 38. 93. 69. Final

In a close game, there is no history. Only the present and the future.

In games that matter, all that matters is the result. All that matters is what you do next. Narratives change in the games that matter over that, erasing history and good will with the frustrations or glory of those late-game moments.

That is where games, series and championships are won.

Paolo Banchero and the Orlando Magic are not playing at those stakes yet. But they are feeling the pressure. The pressure that comes with trying to make up ground in the postseason chase and the pressure of feeling that pressure for the first time.

They are hoping to see glimpses of their future. The present is merely promising and not a sure thing.

Banchero saw that frustration firsthand in gutting losses to the New York Knicks and Miami Heat on their home floor two weeks ago. Paolo Banchero lost that duel against Jalen Brunson, missing a key reverse layup that had him visibly frustrated on the bench. He lost the next duel against Jimmy Butler as the Magic’s offense cratered late with the ball in his hands.

Late games are about what you do now and next. Never what you have done before. That no longer matters.

With the game tied at 91 at Smoothie King Center, Banchero released all that baggage of the past. All the frustrations and a month’s worth of cold shooting. The ball was in his hands. His team believed and invested in him. And in a critical moment needed him to deliver.

Paolo Banchero delivered a glimpse of his future, hitting three shots down the stretch to deliver the Orlando Magic a critical road win over the New Orleans Pelicans.

Banchero hit a simple crossover to freeze Brandon Ingram and create some space. He rose up and buried the jumper.

With the game tied at 93, Banchero got the ball again, isolated Herb Jones and buried a jumper over him to give the Magic the lead yet again, answering the jumper from Brandon Ingram a possession before to tie it.

Holding onto that two-point lead, Banchero put the nail in the coffin, spinning off Jones again and burying a tough fade-away jumper over him.

Game. Set. Match.

This is the kind of playmaking and poise everyone signs up for from a No. 1 pick. This is the kind of execution and shotmaking teams need to win. Sometimes it is truly a one-on-one game. Your best offensive player against your best defensive player. May the best man win.

Late-game situations are not about the past. They are about the present and the future. Who wins this moment and a hint of what they can do again.

Banchero showed himself to be the future, helping the Orlando Magic take down the New Orleans Pelicans 101-93 at Smoothie King Center on these three clutch baskets.

"“It just shows that we have a lot of fight,” Banchero said after Monday’s game. “We believe in each other. We believe in ourselves as a team. They are a great team. They really started to fluster us late in the fourth quarter with their pressure. We just had to find a way to fight the pressure and find some buckets down the stretch.”"

The Magic knew they had to relieve the pressure from the back-and-forth nature of this game. There is no better way to step up to it and answer it with a shot. The team relied on its defense for sure, but it got the shots the team needed.

Really it was more than that. This was answering the pressure for the rookie forward that he has experienced in his last 10-15 games.

Banchero has had a rough month and a half. He is averaging 15.4 points per game and shooting 35.3 percent from the floor (3.3 percent from deep). Banchero can still put up numbers because he is that good. But his struggles have been a hindrance to the team.

He delivered in a way he has not done so in a long time. But in a way the Magic expect to get from him.

Banchero helped the Magic take an 11-point first-quarter lead with eight points and four assists. He got to the basket and worked with the space the defense gave him to finish around the rim. When they brought the double teams, he dished it to cutters or back to the perimeter.

The Magic lost that ball movement through a difficult second quarter. Banchero did not record another assist. But he became a drumbeat for the team the rest of the way, as Orlando built its lead up only to work to fend off New Orleans when the team cut into the lead.

The Pelicans never took the lead, only tying the game late. The Magic answered with big shots.

"“When he is playing like that, he helps our team go,” Markelle Fultz said after Monday’s game. “Everybody is super excited for him. It’s a team thing. Everyone is trying to play together and just get the win.”"

Banchero had 20 of his 29 points in the second half. He had 12 in the third quarter, making only 3 of 7 shots, but getting to the line to make 6 of 7 free throws. That kept Orlando in the lead and helped the team get some breathing room.

He scored the final eight in the final 3.5 minutes of the fourth quarter. His late-game shot-making was the nail in the coffin.

All due respect to the team’s improved defense, the Magic still needed a shot to get them over the finish line. That is what Banchero delivered.

"“They trust me,” Banchero said after Monday’s win. “They trust me to make the right play. I don’t take that for granted. I don’t take it lightly. I take it seriously. I just want to win. Whether it’s me getting the basket late, or at the end, coming off of it, to Gary [Harris] and Gary swinging it to Franz [Wagner] and Franz hitting the floater to go up six. That’s just them trusting me and me trusting them to finish off the play. We’re just close as a group and I think it shows in moments like that.”"

Coach Jamahl Mosley said this trust and Banchero’s trust in his teammates is the biggest growth in the rookie’s play. And why he was able to deliver in this moment.

Orlando knows its future rests with Banchero. So the team stuck with him — for better or for worse. This season was not about this season. It was always about setting the table for what was to come. And that will eventually be Banchero.

So much of a rookie season is about coming through and learning from these struggles.

That confidence was on display to close the game. The Magic needed Banchero to finish and get them shots and carry the team to the end. This is what all the good teams are able to do.

This is what Banchero always promised.

Banchero has looked like he has hit the rookie wall with his jump shot. Defenses have made it a point to throw multiple bodies and different schemes at him. As Banchero struggled more with his shot, his frustration and patience dwindled some. He has struggled to handle the added attention.

But through it all, he has constantly shown he is more than capable of handling the pressure. Even if it is just in hints and moments of brilliance. That is all anyone can expect from a rookie. Banchero has just spent his entire season raising the expectations for what he can do.

That is what he did late in this game against the Pelicans. That is what he did in delivering a win.

Late-game situations are not about the past and what was. They are about the now and the future.

dark. Next. 3 keys for the Orlando Magic to make the play-in

Banchero again gave a hint of what the future holds for him and this team. As they continue to work to make the present that much brighter.