Goga Bitadze was probably not expecting to play on Saturday. He was part of the group that gets some extra game reps after the team's shootaround Saturday morning. Anything to stay fresh and ready when their number might be called. But that group usually knows they are not part of the playing rotation when they get that extra work in.
With time winding down in a close game in the fourth quarter, Bitadze was probably not the name anyone expected to get called.
But with 9:19 remaining in the fourth quarter and the Orlando Magic trailing by five points, coach Jamahl Mosley deviated from the set rotation. He put Goga Bitadze in to try to slow down Andre Drummond and eventually Nikola Vucevic and the offensive rebounding machine he was throughout the game.
The Magic needed some size on the inside to defeat the Chicago Bulls and keep a grip on the game.
The gamble worked. Bitadze recorded five points, grabbed two rebounds and blocked one shot in 14:19 of court action. That block was a critical one on a layup from DeMar DeRozan that followed an alley-oop lob from Franz Wagner to give the Magic a five-point lead.
Yes, Bitadze's foul led to the game-tying and-one from DeRozan. But he kept the pressure up in overtime, proving to be a strong rolling option. More importantly, he helped close the offensive glass in many ways and challenged Vucevic to stymie the Bulls and deliver the most critical stat -- a win.
It was surprise efforts from him and a suddenly surging Cole Anthony -- 14 points and 11 rebounds -- that helped set things up for the Magic to defeat the Bulls 114-108 in overtime on Saturday.
There is no victory without their efforts -- Franz Wagner's 36 points, including 18 in the fourth quarter and overtime, were not too bad either.
The Magic have long said they play by committee. Saturday night they lived it.
Bitadze was the embodiment of this ethos.
"I'm so proud of him and our coaches for always staying the course and being an unbelievable teammate no matter what is going on," coach Jamahl Mosley said after Saturday's game. "He worked out and played this morning and got himself ready to go. Coaches had him ready to go with the game plan. He just did great things out there. Extra possessions, offensive rebounds, blocked shots, great screens. All the things we know he is capable of doing. Changing the game up tonight was something that we needed to do. He came up big for us."
It was undoubtedly a risk. Bitadze had not played more than 10 minutes in a game since the Jan. 19 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers. But the Magic knew they could trust Bitadze. They knew he could step up, as he did when Wendell Carter was injured earlier in the season.
The Magic struggled throughout the game with offensive rebounds, giving up 18 for 20 second-chance points (albeit on 8-for-17 shooting). Vucevic was tearing up the Magic's interior defenders with 26 points and 17 rebounds, including nine offensive rebounds.
Mosley surmised he needed size to match up with the former Magic big man. Just as much as he knew he needed Jonathan Isaac to help close out on DeMar DeRozan (28 points on 11-for-24 shooting). Orlando was scrambling to stay in the game and erase a six-point deficit entering the final frame.
Bitadze has proven he deserves to be on the court and can play at that high level. The Magic know they can trust all three centers to play meaningful minutes when their name is called.
His name got called. He and others stepped up with the Magic, trying to piece together a winning formula.
Orlando closed the game with Cole Anthony, Franz Wagner, Paolo Banchero, Jonathan Isaac and Goga Bitadze. The team was leaning a lot on non-traditional players to close games. That group certainly had not played very much together entering Saturday's game.
But that was the group the Magic were going with and they would need everyone to step up.
It was the kind of game where everyone had to find it anyway.
"We're going to keep using that same word about this Orlando Magic basketball team: Resilient," Mosley said after Saturday's game. "It's a resilient group of young men who are going to do whatever is necessary to find a way to push for each other and get the win. We talk about winning and standard, we didn't play up to our standard tonight. But it's good to be able to clean those things up in a win. We'll continue to get better and grow from this."
Orlando led for the entire first half but could never pull away. The team got hit with a 9-0 run to open the third quarter and trailed by as much as 12. The Magic struggled with turnovers and their own mistakes to fall into that deep hole.
Wagner did a lot of heavy lifting to get the team out of that deficit and back into the game. But so did Anthony.
Anthony has been mired in a prolonged shooting slump that has seen him average 6.3 points per game on 42.0 percent shooting in his last 10 games. He had a breakout game, scoring 14 points on 5-for-11 shooting and added 11 rebounds, mixing it up in the paint to help boost the Magic.
"I had to re-lock in. I had to take a step back, reassess my goals and what I want to do," Cole Anthony said after Saturday's game. "For me, I just had to get in that gym, be consistent with that, stick to a plan, and it's allowed me to get to this point. I have such a supportive team, supportive coaches and supportive organization. I'm just so happy to be out there and have an opportunity for this win."
Anthony got himself going with a pair of difficult shots in the fourth quarter, hitting a spinning jumper that got two defenders to fly past him, taking Vucevic off the dribble for another jumper, and then hitting a spinning shot that earned him a foul. That got the energy going.
The Magic again leaned on their defense, holding the Bulls to 22 points in the fourth quarter and overtime. But they did it without Jalen Suggs or Wendell Carter playing in those minutes. It had to come from some unlikely sources.
The Magic needed to have everyone step up. They were willing to go to anyone on the roster. They trusted anyone on the roster to get the job done.
"That's the makeup of this team," Mosley said after Saturday's game. "Guys that are going to keep fighting no matter what's happening, whether they are in rotation or not in rotation. They are going to stay ready, and they are going to do what's right to help this team find a way to get a win."
At this point of the season, everyone is trying to do whatever they can to scratch out a win. Every team has to do whatever is necessary.
This game called for the team to dive deep into its bench to find the right player to lift the team. It came from an unexpected source.
But that has been the Magic's ethos throughout. They will be ready no matter what the game calls for, no matter who the game calls for. They lived up to that billing.