In a game where there is a lot to take away there is one main thing that stood out.
Most people will say it was Paolo Banchero’s clutch genes activating in the late game again as he knocked down a turn around fadeaway in the paint for the win with 1.2 seconds left. Some will say it was Cole Anthony having 16 points in another huge game off the bench.
But it was the Orlando Magic’s outstanding defensive efforts all game to stifle the Bulls that made the difference in Wednesday’s 96-94 win against the Chicago Bulls. In a game where both teams struggled to shoot, the Magic’s defense helped them get off to a red hot start and they went up 19 at one point.
Regardless of some late game heroics by Zach LaVine, Paolo Banchero had to hit the game winner to save the Magic from what would have been a disastrous melt down. Banchero’s shot was outstandingly clutch, but what stood out was the Magic’s hustle, effort, and unity on defense.
The Orlando Magic’s defense came back with a vengeance after a tough game against the Brooklyn Nets. Paolo Banchero needed a game-winner to secure the win against the Chicago Bulls, but the defense stood out.
The Magic held the Bulls to less than100 points. In todays game that is extremely rare and is the sign of an elite defensive performance as a team. The Bulls were on pace to score a lot less too until they heated up late in the 4th.
The Bulls, who have a bottom-five offense this year, still average 108.5 points per game and could not even reach that. They also held the Bulls to 39.8 percent from the field, and 27.3 percent from three, which is way less than their usual 44.0 percent from the field and 34.3 percent from three.
The Magic set the tone defensively early and never put their foot on the gas. In the second quarter the Magic held the Bulls to just 12 points and took a 50-33 lead at the half. That was the fewest points allowed in a half in the entire league this season.
The Magic even held the Bulls to less than 30 percent shooting from the field and three in the first half.
"“We will make no claims anywhere else,” coach Jamahl Mosley said after Wednesday’s game. “We are defensive team first. Defense travels. It doesn’t matter if you are making shots, missing shots. We’re going to sit down and guard. The guys on that floor know how hard they have to play night in and night out because it’s not easy to win in this league.”"
They gave up just 95.9 points per 100 possessions, one of the best defensive efforts of the season for a team that is in the top five in the league in defensive rating.
The Magic were everywhere and everyone played their part.
Jalen Suggs and Anthony Black were disruptive forces that did not give up and that wreaked havoc in the back court. Surprisingly that was backed up by some phenomenal rim protection by Goga Bitadze who is starting place of the injured Wendell Carter.
This energy was carried on through the bench as Jonathan Isaac, Cole Anthony, Gary Harris and Moe Wagner were just as locked in defensively. Rotations were perfect, everyone was active and moving on defense, and the everyone was strong in the paint.
The Magic forced the Bulls into 19 turnovers including 12 of them off steals, and they added two blocks with it as well. This lead to 14 points off of turnovers which is so important in a close game where neither offense is getting it going.
There were a lot of great defensive performances for the Magic in this game. Out of the 10 Magic players who played, seven recorded a steal and four players had multiple steals. Orlando is currently second in the league in steals at 9.8 per game.
Jonathan Isaac was one of the players who put on a defensive masterclass. He had two steals and two jaw dropping highlight-reel blocks. Jonahtan Isaac emphatically sent back a layup from Andre Drummond in the first quarter, and he also rejected Coby White’s layup attempt in the fourth quarter.
That does not count all the shots he changed. It looked impossible to score on Isaac all night, and it seemed as if there was a lid on the basket when he was the primary defender. As Mosley said, it is getting to the point where he has to remind players to stay home with Isaac behind them because Isaac will clean everything up.
Another player who had a similar night is Jalen Suggs.
Jalen Suggs recorded a team-high three steals and was given the tall task of guarding Zach LaVine. Suggs did not shy away and held LaVine to just 19 points on 6-for-16 shooting. LaVine’s 19 points on 16 shots is horrendous, and LaVine would have had a lot less if he did not make a couple of really tough shots late in the fourth quarter (including the game-tying three with seven seconds left).
Bitadze was able to do something that Magic centers have struggled with the past few seasons which is not leave his feet. Former Magic centers like Bol Bol and Mo Bamba, and even their current bigs tend to get block happy and jump when they see a chance at making sports center.
Bitadze was able to keep his composure, his hands up, and his feet down against the Bulls. This allowed him to give Nikola Vucevic a hard time, and he was able to help other Magic defenders when their man entered the paint.
The Magic have struggled with rim protection over the last few years, so it was a refreshing sight to see poise and hustle around the basket from a Magic big. It was also refreshing to see elite defensive guard play off the bench. Cole Anthony, who has really stepped it up defensively this season, and Gary Harris, who is a known good defender, were putting on a clinic defensively off the bench.
The Magic did not let up off the gas defensively all night and they did not give any Bulls player a second to breathe. Aside from Suggs refusing to leave LaVine’s side all night, a lot of Bulls players struggled in the game against the Magic.
It was just a poor offensive night for Chicago and even when the team picked up steam in the second half, everything was a struggle. If not for Orlando’s turnovers in the second half, Chicago might have continued to struggle to score.
"“We’re top five in the league right now in defense,” Banchero said after Wednesday’s game. “That’s just what we’ve made our identity. That’s been the point of emphasis since training camp started. I think we’ve been doing a great job of making that our calling card as far as no matter how we are playing on offense or individuals are shooting the ball we’ve got to play defense and sit down and guard.”"
The best part of the Magic’s defense was their effort levels. There was a lot of time where a Bulls player would drive and get to the paint, and instead of just reaching for the ball or getting block happy, the Magic stayed poised and kept there hands up and cause the Bulls to miss a lot of shots at the rim.
The Magic held the Bulls to just 46 points in the paint, 0n 48.7 percent shooting and19-for-39 shooting from the paint. That may seem like a high percentage, but when you realize it is only paint shots, and it is within 15 feet then you realize the Bulls should be converting at a much higher rate.
The Magic stayed strong in the paint, and forced the Bulls to try to beat them from outside. They allowed the Bulls make only one of their five mid range shots. With the paint being locked up and the mid range game nowhere to be found, the Bulls were forced to shoot 33 three pointers of which they only made nine.
This is the kind of game the Magic like. The Bulls had to work for everything.
They showed they are a better team this year by locking in defensively and not allowing the Bulls to take advantage of their poor shooting night, by forcing the Bulls into a worse shooting night.
None of this would of mattered however if it was not for a phenomenal and clutch moment down the stretch by Banchero, and he needs to be commemorated for coming up huge again in another close game for the Magic. He created his own shot and shined when the lights were the brightest. It is even more impressive because he did not let the teams late game failures disrupt his confidence or ego,
Still it was the Magic’s defense that kept them their lead, and allowed Banchero to be in the spot to make a play late in the game. The Magic did not allow any of the Bulls players to get in rhythm.
Orlando built its lead and managed to hang on. The team can still thank its defense for that too.
Even though the Bulls started to put it together at the end, it was too late and the Magic had made a nice cushion for themselves that allowed them to get the last shot and still be in position to win the game aside from late game struggles.
If the Magic can continue to play defense as a whole like this, and let their defense keep them in games when their offense, which has struggled for years, is struggling yet again then they could be real playoff contenders.