The Orlando Magic came out slow in the third quarter, the only time there was any kind of lull in an otherwise celebratory night at the Amway Center.
Orlando opened the third quarter with an 11-point lead and then saw Fred VanVleet and Dillon Brooks drain five three-pointers in the first five minutes of the quarter to chop the lead down to one.
This was not the way the team played throughout the first half when they built a double-digit lead and largely maintained it through the first 24 minutes. Suddenly the Magic found themselves in a game.
It was not unlike last year’s season opener when the Orlando Magic went on the road and staked a lead over the Detroit Pistons only to see a barrage of threes cut that lead. The Pistons did not go away and the Magic did not put them away, having to scramble back to make it a game in the fourth quarter.
They lost that game to go to 0-1.
Symmetry is nice for a young team. It is good to see how this team will respond to similar situations. It is the easiest way to see growth.
The Orlando Magic promised they would be a more mature and poised team. Faced with a blown lead in the third quarter, they answered in a big way to display this growth.
Orlando spoke all training camp about their growing maturity. They talked about how they were bringing a serious approach to their games and their season. There was still plenty of fun to be had, but the team seemed focused.
There was talk about being more serious and focused. And here it was in the first game, a chance to get tested and see just how mature the team might be.
So the Magic took a deep breath. They did not even call a timeout. They went out and won the game.
"“I think it’s really about that level of maturity,” coach Jamahl Mosley said. “It’s what we’ve worked on. We talked about how do you play when you are ahead. What do you do? There were a couple of times they got it back and Markelle [Fultz] slowed the ball down, got us into our set, running nice execution and Franz [Wagner] gets to the basket. It’s those things that showed the maturity and growth of this group. I think we just have to keep holding onto that and then there are obviously still areas of improvement. We can’t let go of it when we do have a lead.”"
Certainly, Orlando would prefer not to lose a double-digit lead and give up that kind of run. But that is the NBA. The question is always about: How do you respond?
The good teams never lose their cool and the bad teams often get flustered when teams make their runs. To see Orlando respond in this way and this emphatically was quite the statement.
How they built it was methodical and patient too. There was no panic in what they did to pull away and win the game.
They missed a shot and then got a turnover off an offensive foul. Paolo Banchero hit a pull-up jumper. The team got back to defending and eventually expanded the lead with Franz Wagner hitting a shot and Markelle Fultz hitting his big dunk.
The lead finally expanded out back beyond 10 with Wendell Carter hitting a layup off a putback and Cole Anthony hitting a floater.
The game started getting out of hand again with Jonathan Isaac hitting a cutting layup and then finally his tip-dunk and-1 and running layup before his block (not recorded as a block) on Jalen Green that put an exclamation point on a 116-86 win.
"“I think in a game even last year, we might have let that happen and might have folded,” Cole Anthony said after Wednesday’s game. “The tide of he game could have easily switched. But we stayed composed. They hit some shots. As a unit and as a team, we stayed calm, stayed collected and stayed under control and it allowed us to get that lead back and turn it into a pretty big lead.”"
That is probably the best distillation of what maturity is and what it will look like for this team. For a team that had a lot of talk but not a lot of proof of what they could do when put under pressure, this showed what the Magic are capable of doing. And how much responsibility and ownership they have taken over the process.
There is still a lot to clean up from the first game. Despite the 30-point win, the Magic struggled to shoot and at times settled for 3-pointers. They turned the ball over 16 times and were sloppy for portions of the game. They fouled way too much, despite the emphasis on being physical with the young Rockets team.
Still, the team dominated the game thoroughly. They were disruptive defensively and found pockets to score, going in bunches to build their lead in the first place and rebuild the lead in the third quarter.
The goal for the Magic remains to make sure those downs are not long-lasting. The team has to manage those runs.
That third-quarter moment stood at a point when the game was truly in the balance. And the Magic showed the maturity to put the game away.
"“We had lulls in the game,” Isaac said after Wednesday’s game. “I think coming out of that third quarter, we didn’t have a great start defensively. We picked it up, we recognized it and we were able to get back into our flow. Our mindset is how are we moving forward? Can we keep that level of intensity and focus the entire 48 and moving on to the next game?”"
That might be the greatest sign of maturity. The team was not necessarily reveling in their big win. They were already thinking about the next game.
Anthony said the team would take 30-40 minutes to celebrate the win (maybe the night) before they began thinking about their trip West and the next challenge. The team is not here to win one game. They have bigger ambitions for sure.
But that is part of the next step too. Mosley said the team practiced two-minute scrimmages where the team played with a league. The challenge for this team is how do they handle success and how they get back to work after games like this.
"“I think the biggest thing for us is the growth and our maturity level,” Mosley said after Wednesday’s game. “We started with a lead, you sustain the lead and we didn’t let it get away from us for the most part. Being mature enough to handle success. That’s just what I told them before in the locker room. Being able to act like you’ve been here before. At the end of the day, you don’t want to celebrate the one win. Enjoy it, but you have to get back to work tomorrow. Win or lose, we are going to get back to work the right way every day.”"
There is still obviously a lot of work to do. Nobody is pretending that the Magic have accomplished anything other than a fun opening night.
But in the first game, the team proved a lot of what they are working on and what they are trying to grow. They wanted to prove they were a more mature team. This was as mature a response as a young team could hope for and something they can build on.