The Orlando Magic want to be unrelenting. You do not become the top defense in the league without an unrelenting nature and a lot of focus and determination.
Yet, this is still an unproven team. The Magic are still establishing who they are and what they are about. They have not yet completely proven themselves in the biggest moments and against the biggest teams. Nobody is quite sure what is real.
Does this make the Magic’s defense real? Does this stand as a statement? Perhaps it does.
Or perhaps Paolo Banchero’s emphatic dunk over Jalen Smith does the work for them:
That will be the highlight of the game.
Banchero sneaking in the backcourt and intercepting a pass in the backcourt before jamming it all over the shocked and retreating defender. There is no better way to encapsulate how thorough the Magic’s domination of the Pacers was through three quarters, leading by 34 at the half and by 40 at one point.
The Orlando Magic’s defense made a big statement against the league’s top offense as the Magic continue to prove themselves and their identity in the league.
The Magic’s deep bench gave much of that lead away in the fourth quarter. But the statement was well made by the league’s top defense entering the game. Orlando won 128-116 on the road in Indiana, shutting down Indiana’s high-powered offense with a perfect gameplan and execution.
The domination was so thorough that it has to be some kind of statement for this team. It certainly is a confidence boost after a 3-1 road trip and heading into a six-game homestand.
It is at the very least something to build on. And further confirmation of who this team is.
"“I just think it’s the mentality,” Banchero said after Sunday’s win. “We’ve got the personnel and the guys to sit down and guard. It just comes down to the willingness to do it game in and game out.”"
Orlando came out flying in this one, scoring the game’s first nine points and forcing Rick Carlisle to call three timeouts in the first quarter. The Magic were excellent at disrupting any kind of rhythm the Pacers could develop and not allowing them to get out in transition.
They were extremely disruptive defensively, forcing deflections and turnovers. Orlando, who took a 42-21 lead after one quarter, forced Indiana into seven turnovers in the first quarter alone and finished with 12 turnovers for 18 Orlando points at halftime.
At halftime, the Magic had posted an 80.0 defensive rating and a 34-point lead. Orlando sat at a 97.5 defensive rating through three quarters, leading by 29 as the starters did not play a minute in the fourth quarter (aside from rookie Anthony Black).
That does not even get into the team’s offensive pressure. The Magic were on constant attack to the basket, starting with Jalen Suggs who finished with flourishes and poise at the rim. He had nine of his 18 points in the first quarter to set the tone for the game.
"“It was like a boxing match,” Jalen Suggs said after Sunday’s win. “Once you got in their head that they don’t want to get hit, they don’t want to play physical and they don’t want to play against defense is flying around and not many driving lanes and when there is a driving lane you are getting met in the paint and not getting any easy buckets. That’s not easy to play in night in and night out. Just continue to be us, do that and set the tone down there and the offense will take care of itself.”"
The Magic hit first and then kept hitting throughout the game.
Banchero took it from there with 24 points, working the mid and high post and hunting matchups, often forcing the switch onto Bennedict Mathurin before bullying his way to the basket. When the Pacers made a brief run behind a flurry of Tyrese Haliburton shots to start the third quarter, Banchero calmed everyone down by forcing his way to the line.
Everyone got their turn attacking the paint. Orlando tallied 49 points in the paint and 15 fast-break points at the half alone.
Orlando did not even commit its first turnover in the game until there were 42.7 seconds left in the second quarter.
It made the game academic. Orlando was dialed in moving the ball to get open shots and tearing apart Indiana’s weak interior defense. The Magic were having a good time but executing with focus and intensity.
The kind of thing this team needs to do to put these opponents away. The kind of thing this team has only shown in flashes, but carried through the third quarter — the Magic’s deep bench let the lead whittle down, but they led by 29 points entering the fourth quarter.
With how dominant the Magic’s defense looked and how they limited the Pacers to just 6-for-22 shooting from three through three quarters, they made a clear statement of what they can do this season.
"“Understand that defense travels. Defense wins,” coach Jamahl Mosley said after Sunday’s win. “We have to continue to understand that. You have guys who want to defend, that understand how to defense. Them having the ability to follow the gameplan the right way, our coaches did a tremendous job putting it together for them. I’m just so pleased with how we came out in that first half.”"
So what kind of statement did the Magic make in taking down the league’s top offense?
Orlando is 8-5 now and sitting pretty in the Eastern Conference as they get closer to Thanksgiving. The Magic now get a six-game homestand — including In-Season Tournament home games against the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday and Boston Celtics on Friday.
That is the big picture item. Orlando’s fourth quarter will make a dent in the team’s defensive stats, but the team has clearly established itself as a formidable defensive unit.
If the goal for the early part of the season was to establish that defensive foundation, the Magic have put themselves in a very good spot. But doing it agains the top offenses in the league has been a struggle.
And what the team really needs is marquee wins to start turning heads.
The win over the Milwaukee Bucks at home last week and that strong defensive performance was certainly a statement made. But there are still plenty more to make. Unfortunately the Pacers, for as fun as they have been offensively, do no move the needle.
This win is still a brick in the wall. It is a big confidence boost for a team still trying to learn how to win and put together more defensive performances like this one. The team knows it can thoroughly dominate one of the best offensive teams in the league.
But they should still be seeking ways to build on it and perform under pressure. They get that chance with games against the Denver Nuggets and Boston Celtics this week.
What Orlando is seeking is consistency and the ability to do this every single night. Sunday was yet another proof of concept for the Magic’s ability to be an elite defensive team and a competent offensive one.
Orlando has proven itself against an elite offense yet again. And that is something this young team can keep building on heading home.