Orlando Magic break the dam to spark offense in Game 3

The Orlando Magic struggled to shoot in their first two games in Cleveland. It felt like that might be how Game 3 would go. Then the dam broke, the shots went down and the Magic felt relief.
The Orlando Magic finally saw the ball go through the hoop and spark their offense as they climbed back into their series with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Orlando Magic finally saw the ball go through the hoop and spark their offense as they climbed back into their series with the Cleveland Cavaliers. / Rich Storry/GettyImages

Jalen Suggs could only laugh after Game 3 to the reaction of the crowd early in the game. That is what you can do when you win by 38 points and life feels good. The pressure was relieved and the Magic were back in the series.

But everyone could feel it with every miss. Early on, this felt like Games 1 and 2 all over again.

Suggs could audibly hear the hope of the crowd rising with every shot and then the exasperation when that shot missed. Orlando missed their first nine shots and first five 3-pointers Thursday in Game 3. The Magic were 1 for 11 and 0 for 6 from three before hitting their first 3-pointer of the game (trailing 10-3 before Franz Wagner hit that shot).

That is when the relief finally came. When the team and the fans could let out a final scream and a sigh of relief. The dam offensively had finally broken, flooding the Kia Center floor in shots and scoring opportunities.

Orlando spoke about trusting its process and the looks it was getting and even after several offensive rebounds and kickouts for open threes, the shots were not going in. That is what has to happen in a Playoff series at some point.

When they finally did, everyone could breathe a sigh of relief. And then the lid came off the rest of the game.

"Like I said this whole time, our process is so good," Suggs said after Thursday's win. "We were getting great looks. They weren't dropping early. Everyone was picking each other up. Everybody was telling each other to keep shooting, keep getting the looks and causing problems. We shot it really well not only from three but in the paint. We did a great job being dominant from there, carrying over the physicality but also thinking the game. We had a bit more swag which helped us being home in front of this crowd. It was a culmination of all those things."

The Magic finally made their breakthrough offensively, scoring 121 points and scoring 30 or more points in three quarters for the first time this series.

No one could blame them after struggling to make much of anything in the first two games if they do not do what Cole Anthony did after finally seeing some shots go in and thank the heavens for something turning their way.

Anthony most of all needed it going 4 for 7 for 10 points after missing all 11 shots he took in Games 1 and 2. This was the relief the team needed.

"When you approach a game and have great energy, the shots are going to fall eventually," Anthony said after Thursday's win. "We started the game missing five straight threes. It started with [Wendell Carter]. He got on the offensive glass, got a few tip outs and that just sparked everything for us on the defensive side and the offensive side."

The Magic have extolled their approach in Games 1 and 2 and kept the faith they would get the shots to go down. But Orlando played with notably more energy. The team grabbed nine of its 14 offensive rebounds in the first quarter, scoring 13 second-chance points, to seize control and finally win the first quarter.

Orlando it seemed was not going to let the missed shots dissipate the team's energy or physicality. When the shots started to fall, the snowball started rolling down the hill.

Shooting can be contagious in both good and bad ways as the team found out on the road. The Magic kept the faith and finally broke through to climb back into the series.

"I think we just all feed off each other as a team," Paolo Banchero said after Thursday's win. "When you see your teammate making shots, it lifts everybody up and guys feed off that. I think there is a lot of that going on. The first couple of minutes we missed our first five or six threes, that's the keep-shooting mentality. Once one goes down, the floodgates open."

So much of the discussion after the first two games was simply about that. The team needed to see shots fall consistently and then they knew they would be able to climb back into the series.

The Magic did not do too much different from Games 1 and 2. Where the team missed open shots in Cleveland, Orlando was still 6 for 18 on 3-pointers where the closest defender was six or more feet away. Like in Cleveland when the Cavs used early shots to stake a lead, the Magic hit 5 of 14 threes in the first quarter to race ahead and get the crowd into a frenzy.

Orlando did change some things up -- beyond returning Wendell Carter to the starting lineup. They were trying to get out in transition, scoring 22 fast-break points. There was a concerted effort to push the ball after grabbing rebounds -- another big focus in Game 3 after Jarrett Allen dominated the glass.

The Magic averaged 14.5 fast-break points per game in the first two games. The offense often devolved into isolations and a slowed-down version that allowed the Cavs to get set. That spelled trouble for Orlando especially when the team was shooting.

Even after missing their first six threes, the Magic saw the ball go through the net with some shots around the rim and in transition and that started to loosen the lid.

"I think we got some easy ones," coach Jamahl Mosley said after Thursday's win. "We talked about getting out early because we finished possessions to get out and run and get easy baskets in transition. I think when you see a couple of layups go in, you see a few shots go in, it builds a little bit more and the momentum changes. We saw that with them in Cleveland. The story was a little different here for us being able to watch the ball go through the hoop."

The game is actually quite simple. It has been quite simple all series. Orlando needed to hit shots and find a way to create some offensive momentum and rhythm.

Cleveland is especially designed to take away Orlando's favorite shots in the paint and pressure on the rim. The Cavs challenged the Magic to loosen them with three-pointers. Orlando finally answered that call.

Making shots had a trickle-down effect too. With the ball able to move (24 assists on 47 field goals) and open shots going in, the team felt less need to try to force passes to create scoring opportunities. The team's trust was at an all-time high. After 15 turnovers in Games 1 and 2 combined, Banchero did not turn the ball over and the Magic had just nine turnovers as a team (leading to 10 points).

Making shots enabled the Magic's defense to settle in and really make an impact. Orlando's defense has not changed much between Games 1 and 2 to Game 3. The only difference was the team scored enough to take advantage of it.

The Magic broke through and it gave the team confidence and a seeming sense of invincibility.

"It was just a level of confidence that they all possessed knowing what was at stake and what we needed to do and how we needed to play [Thursday]," Mosley said after Thursday's win. "I thought they played a level of poise, resilience no matter what was happening. You saw it from the beginning of the game when shots were not falling. It could have been the same story. There is a confidence within this group and how we do it by committee that they are going to keep encouraging each other and keep stepping into their shots no matter the circumstances."

Undoubtedly too, the emotion of returning home to the Kia Center played a role. Players credited the frenzied crowd for driving them forward and powering the team to the runaway victory. As Banchero put it after the game, being at home calms the team down.

Still, the Magic know they have to do this again and eventually do this in Cleveland to win the series.

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They will have to find a way to keep the momentum going and the lid off the jar, so to speak.