Franz Wagner's horrible Game 7 will not define him or Orlando Magic

Game 7 creates a lot of pressure that can turn some players into diamonds and others into coal. Franz Wagner is as important to the Orlando Magic as ever, but his Game 7 will haunt him.
Franz Wagner's rough Game 7 put him in the spotlight in such a big moment. But it is not the game that should define him or his progress.
Franz Wagner's rough Game 7 put him in the spotlight in such a big moment. But it is not the game that should define him or his progress. / Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Franz Wagner was visibly distressed as he looked down at the box score and tried to make sense of the Orlando Magic's Game 7 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Wagner has a tendency to read the box score when answering questions, but this seemed to be the only way he or the team could explain how things fell apart so quickly.

Was it the turnovers? Was it missing threes? Was it fast-break points? Was it simply Donovan Mitchell's brilliance?

Wagner probably understood most the number that fans were lamenting. Whatever pains and frustrations they were feeling, Wagner was certainly feeling it doubly.

In the biggest game of his young career, Wagner came up woefully short.

He made only one of his 15 shots, missing all five 3-pointers he took. The second scorer the Magic needed to pair Paolo Banchero with struggled to get through the wall in front of him anchored by Evan Mobley. He could not find the space and gaps he likes to attack.

And then he just missed shots. In such a big moment with so much on the line, it was tough to find answers that a player so usually reliable -- 21.0 points per game on 46.6 percent shooting in the first six games of the series -- had such a dud of a game.

Wagner was looking for answers too in the moments after the game ended.

"I didn't really get to the spots that I wanted to get to," Wagner said after Sunday's game. "I was a bit rushed. Sometimes they didn't go in. I expect a lot more from myself. It sucks to end the season like this. I feel like I let my team down a little bit."

That is probably the most disappointing part. Wagner does and should expect more of himself. Magic fans shared in his disappointment and frustration over the team's loss that afternoon. Wagner received a lot of ire as the Magic enter an important offseason with a lot of options on the table to improve the roster -- including some star-level names.

The Magic are not going to give up on Wagner or let one bad game define an entire season or what they believe he is capable of doing.

Wagner has shown he will step up in big games before. He scored 19 points and grabbed seven rebounds in Germany's FIBA World Cup Final victory this summer. He had 22 points to lead Germany to an upset win over the United States in the semifinals of that tournament.

Wagner has won on big stages before. He will surely win on a big stage again.

There should be no losing faith in Wagner off one bad game, as big as it was. They know he will show up when they return to the Playoffs next year.

"We're not here without Franz," Banchero said after Sunday's loss. "Obviously, he holds himself to a high standard, and he expects a lot out of himself as a player. I'm in that position as well where you feel like you could do a lot more in a losing effort. This doesn't define him, and it doesn't define us.

"He's going to have a great summer. He's going to get better. Knowing him, he's going to use this to motivate him and take it to another level. I don't think he let anybody down. Sometimes this happens. This is our first time in the Playoffs, I'm just proud of how he played and how we played. I know what we've got."

That will always be the question. It will be the question for the entire Magic roster. How will they respond to the Playoff loss?

Wagner will have something to respond to as well.

He improved his scoring and had career-best seasons in several important statistical categories. He averaged a career-best 19.7 points per game and shot 48.2 percent from the floor (in line with his 48.5 percent from last year).

The only thing he seemed to be worse at this year was his 3-point shooting which was still inexplicably at 28.1 percent after two years at better than 35 percent in his first two seasons in the league.

Despite the shooting struggles this year, Wagner had an excellent season. Somehow he, the fans and the team have to make sure everyone remembers that despite how poor his Game 7 ended up being.

That is tough a day after the season ended in such disappointment.

If there is one thing everyone knows, it is that Wagner will use his offseason to gain some redemption for having his worst game at the absolute worst time.

"This man battled. Franz Wagner battled," coach Jamahl Mosley said after Game 7. "And he was doing everything possible to get what he needed. At the end of the day, being able to be taken out of your rhythm [with three early fouls] and you attack the basket the exact same way P[aolo Banchero] and Donovan Mitchell were and not get the same calls. This young man is as competitive as anyone I have been around. he wants it more. He's a tough kid. He's going to bounce back. There's a reason he will be an All-Star coming up too."

Wagner was silent about what happened, still seemingly shell-shocked from the Game 7 defeat to talk about it Sunday.

Monday at exit interviews, he told reporters in Orlando the Game 7 showing will stick with him all summer. It will be too hard to forget. He hopes he can use it as motivation and fuel the right way. The only way to gain redemption will be to get back to the Playoffs next year.

It almost has to even if it was just one game. It is tough to brush off, but that is what the entire team must do, even if they have to sit with it entering the offseason.

"I didn't do anything different, I didn't change anything about my approach," said Jalen Suggs, who went 2 for 13 in Game 7 himself. "Nor did Franz. I have the utmost trust in and respect for him. He works his tail off not only for himself but for all of us to put all of us in the best position. They don't fall, you play solid defense and we got a lot of looks. I think we can live with that knowing that we did all we could and gave all we could."

There is no choice but to live with it. Wagner said he was not quite ready to reflect on the whole season and where he was and how his season went the day after Game 7. It was still too fresh for him.

He, like many players, will disconnect from basketball and try to recover physically and mentally from the grueling season. That last game will likely serve as a motivator for a lot of players.

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That will not define their season. But it did leave a bad taste in everyone's mouth. It certainly left a bad taste for Wagner. And something to drive him for his offseason.