New York Knicks give Orlando Magic a crash-course in Playoff basketball

The Orlando Magic got humbled in Madison Square Garden in their showdown with the New York Knicks. Blitzed from the start, the Magic never matched the physicality or the moment of this battle.
The New York Knicks swarmed the Orlando Magic on Friday in a raucous Madison Square Garden to give them a taste of Playoff intensity.
The New York Knicks swarmed the Orlando Magic on Friday in a raucous Madison Square Garden to give them a taste of Playoff intensity. / Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

38. Magic Knicks Final 03.08.24. 98. 27. Final. 74

From the opening tip, the Orlando Magic looked like they would be in trouble.

The New York Knicks were swarming, sending multiple players to the ball and getting deflections. They were chasing and winning battles for offensive rebounds. Orlando looked staggered from the start, shocked by the physicality and intensity New York brought to the game.

Really, it was an introduction. And the Knicks rattled the Magic early, getting a deflection on nearly every possession for the first six minutes and never letting the Magic get up off the mat. The whole atmosphere in Madison Square Garden got to the young Magic.

In other words: Welcome, to Playoff basketball.

Madison Square Garden was in full throat from the beginning with their team in the lead. The Magic were not able to get momentum in a 98-74 loss that slid the Magic from fourth to fifth in the standings.

Orlando had no answers and no energy to combat New York. The intensity ate them up.

The defeat served as a reflection point for a young team as they prepare for the Playoffs.

"You have to give New York a ton of credit," coach Jamahl Mosley said after Friday's loss. "They came out and were very physical. That's the atmosphere that we're going to have to get used to seeing. It's great preparation for us moving forward, understanding how you can play the game of basketball at a high, physical level and continue to do that."

The Magic need to know what the playoffs are going to feel like. They have done their job to put themselves in position. But the experience of the playoffs is completely foreign to their key players. It may not be something they truly understand until they get there.

Friday night in New York City gave them a taste of what that might be like in all its forms. The Knicks played with the desperation, determination and intensity of a team that had to win this game. The Magic played like a team still trying to adjust to what that atmosphere would be like.

Once they took that first punch, they struggled to get off the mat in this fight.

Better perhaps to get that lesson and go through that failure in March rather than in April. But it was a failure nonetheless. The Knicks taught the Magic a brutal playoff lesson.

It was a mix of everything. A tough road environment (at the end of a road trip) going up against a team locked in to make a statement. A physical game and an opponent that was determined to assert itself from the start. The Magic never rose to the occasion.

It really did start from the beginning with the Knicks opening the game with an 8-0 push. But the things New York did to build the lead continued throughout the game.

They choked off the Magic offensively, holding them to an NBA season-low 74 points (the lowest point total in an NBA game since Dec. 2020). Orlando shot 34.2 percent from the floor and 6 for 26 from beyond the arc.

The game was a runaway pretty quickly and the Magic never seriously threatened the Knicks.

"We've got our [butts] kicked," Paolo Banchero said after Friday's loss. "We've got to be better. Maybe that's what we need to get a taste of that. We haven't been there. Coach said that's what a playoff game is like and so that's what we got to look at this game and adjust. We have to realize the playoffs are going to be more physical and a lot higher intensity. We have to be ready for it."

Everything was a struggle and the Magic likely saw how teams -- like the Knicks -- will defend them when the Playoffs begin.

Orlando could not get to the basket, scoring only 26 points in the paint, and struggled even more to make those shots, hitting 13 of 41 in the paint. The 26 points in the paint mark the second-fewest points in the paint they have scored this season.

Often Orlando's drivers -- mostly Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner -- would see New York load up its defenders to put multiple bodies in the way of the paint and in any driving lane. The Knicks would have the activity and aggression to deflect any passes back out to the perimeter.

The Magic could not move the ball side to side or in and out. Orlando managed only 12 assists on 27 field goals. It was a struggle to get the Knicks into rotations and get them chasing the game. The Magic were always playing catchup.

Orlando had 14 turnovers and a 16.1 percent turnover rate. That did not kill the team with New York scoring only two points off turnovers. But in such a low-possession game, the missed opportunities stung.

And that is the big takeaway on the court.

In a game of this magnitude, every possession and every run felt big. Especially considering how few the possessions were.

The Magic's defense did not have a strong game but buckled down enough to give the Magic a chance to come back. They could not break through and score. They never could build momentum.

And even then, the Knicks were able to get14 second-chance points on 12 offensive rebounds. Their bigs dominated the paint on both ends with 10 blocks, including five from Precious Achiuwa. Extra possessions the Magic needed to make their comeback.

Orlando had some answers on defense and slowed the bleeding. But the team never found its footing or its aggression. The team was always on its back foot.

And unlike Wednesday's comeback win in Washington, D.C., there was no hot shooting or ball movement to let them back in. New York would not lose focus on defense because the team was missing shots.

Instead, the Magic looked frustrated, unable to get to the basket with the ease they have been since the All-Star Break and frustrated with the overall physicality of the game. They looked to the officials a lot for relief and could not find any.

The Knicks took that even amidst their offensive struggles after their early burst as a sign to tighten its grip on defense. The Magic never found that physical resolve that has made the team so tough this year. They were always on the back foot.

That will not cut it in the playoffs, even if the Magic manage to shoot a regular percentage from the field.

This is one game. It does not end their chase for homecourt advantage in the Playoffs or their outlook for the season. The Magic still control much of their own destiny the rest of the season.

But for a team that has been riding high and full on its own belief, it was a reminder they still have a lot of work to do. They still have a lot to learn.

"This is exactly what the playoffs will be like," Mosley said after Friday's loss. "That is exactly what we would want. That's exactly what we want to embrace. You have to give New York a ton of credit for the way they played, not just their physicality but their ability to make shots and get guys open. This is something we will go back, look at, learn from, and get better in our areas that we need to."

For the first time in a long while, the Magic looked their age. They looked like a team a bit in awe of the moment and the intensity it brings.

There will be a lot of these kinds of lessons ahead. Not all of them will follow from wins.

Next. Potential First Round Matchups 03.09.24. Ranking the Orlando Magic's potential playoff matchups. dark

But the Magic know the playoffs are different. Now they have felt how different they will be.