The Orlando Magic saw this story before. A lead late in the game on the road that was trimmed completely away and the need to execute on offense. Against the Los Angeles Lakers on Monday, the Magic had no answer and nowhere really to go. They could not generate consistent offense. And they ended up with a loss.
After Lauri Markkanen drained a 3-pointer to give the Utah Jazz the lead at long last with 19 seconds left, the Delta Center was rocking and boisterous. The Magic’s house of horrors seemed like they were set to continue and this young team would have to learn to execute.
Maybe the Magic just needed to stare their opponents in the eye. Maybe they find calm through all the chaos. Maybe they just have their own player who plays with extreme confidence.
Or rather, one who has rediscovered his confidence.
As Banchero described it after the game, he knew the Jazz would be sitting on his right hand. And so he knew what the defense would give him. Still, he had to make a play that only Banchero can make. He drove right into Collins’ chest, him off him to get some space while still maintaining his own balance.
That is when Banchero went to the left hand scooped the ball in for the finish and the basket.
Paolo Banchero shed any talk of a sophomore slump with his first big performance of the season for the Orlando Magic, delivering what only stars can in a late-game bucket to defeat the Utah Jazz.
Seemingly before Utah could blink, that lead the team worked so hard for and seemingly had rattled the young Orlando team was gone. Banchero snatched the game back and did what stars do.
That basket gave Orlando a one-point lead with 10 seconds left. More importantly, it gave Banchero a superstar moment, 30 points for the game and the go-ahead basket.
It would become the game-winning basket a few seconds later after Talen Horton-Tucker missed a 3-pointer and Wendell Carter skied for a rebound (breaking the third metacarpal in his left hand in the process). Orlando held on for a 115-113 win to earn a split on this early season four-game West Coast road trip.
For Banchero though, it was something of a relief after he struggled so much to start the season. This was the first game all season where Banchero finally looked like himself.
He scored 30 points on 9-for-13 shooting, making 11 of 15 free throws as he consistently attacked the lane and the basket. He grabbed nine rebounds and dished out another five assists as his playmaking and other facets of his game continue to grow.
Banchero’s lack of scoring has stood out this year though. Games like Thursday night were expected to be the norm not the rare occurrence they have been through five games.
"“I think that’s how the season goes,” Banchero said after Thursday’s win. “There are going to be ups and downs. As long as you just stay consistent and don’t waver in just the belief that you can go out and be the great player that you are, you can do what you do.”"
He entered Thursday’s game averaging 12.5 points per game on 37.8 percent shooting. It was a lot of poor shooting to go with a lack of scoring. You could feel his frustration watching him play as he tried to find his game.
Those numbers led to plenty of handwringing among fans and lots of ink spilled trying to explain his troubles and reassure the Magic faithful that he would come out of it.
Really, so much of Banchero’s problems seemed to be coming from a good place. He was trying to get others involved and soak up the attention he was receiving.
But this also had the effect of slowing his game down. He was trying to make the right play, but was giving defenses plenty of time to load up against him. It looked like he was frozen by the plethora of options in front of him.
He entered Thursday’s game averaging 4.5 assists per game, a sizable leap from his rookie season average. And Thursday marked his third game with at least five assists this season.
But Banchero is there to score. He is there to be the anchor of this team’s offense. It was hard to envision the Magic doing anything significant without Banchero and his constant pressure on the paint.
From the start of Thursday’s game then, Banchero had a different attitude. He looked like the player who was nearly the unanimous Rookie of the Year. He made quick decisions and attacked before the defense could get set.
He still made plenty of reads to get others open — even overpassing or trying to squeeze passes into tight windows.
Banchero is still about is teammates, but he was finally looking for his own first. And attacking with that eye to score. The defense could not load up on him and he felt the pressure and used it to create contact and parade to the line.
As much as anything else, Banchero was not going to be stopped. He was never discouraged and he was going to put all the talk of his struggles behind him. That is what stars do. And, to be sure, Banchero is on that star track. Defenses certainly treat him like it.
Banchero just needed to grab it and play that way. It was always on him to break through this funk and find himself.
"“The great part about this young man and I said in the pregame talk and I will continue to say it is he is going to find ways to win,” coach Jamahl Mosley said after Thursday’s win. “He is a winner that’s going to do the right thing. That’s the great thing about him and what he believes in himself as well as his teammates believing in him. His confidence is there, believing what he is capable of doing.”"
Banchero certainly never lost faith in himself. He shared the frustrations everyone had for his performance. But he knew the kind of player he was.
It was just a matter of time.
When the moment called for him, he delivered and reminded everyone what his potential can be and the company he plans to keep for his career.
There is plenty more for him to learn — six turnovers stands out as a sore thumb and he made some poor shot decisions late in the game. But he stepped up at the biggest moment. The Magic knew where they were going. So did everyone else.
And Banchero knew he was going to deliver.
This is what stars do. In a critical game to end a long road trip, needed a win to get back above .500, gutting out a poor fourth quarter, fatigue and everything else, stars carry their teams to the finish line. Everyone knows what they are about to do and seem powerless to stop it.
Banchero has long showed hints he could be that player. The way this season started, the frustration was growing.
But stars silence those doubts. And needing a big game, Banchero delivered and broke through to set everything seemingly right.