Orlando Magic did not shrink from Playoff debut

There was concern that the Orlando Magic would shrink from the moment in their first Playoff series. If there is something encouraging from Game 1, it is that Orlando did not shrink at all.
The Orlando Magic were expected to struggle in their first Playoff game. Perhaps they did, but they also showed a resolve that suggested they were not phased by the bigger stage.
The Orlando Magic were expected to struggle in their first Playoff game. Perhaps they did, but they also showed a resolve that suggested they were not phased by the bigger stage. / Jason Miller/GettyImages

The greatest unknown in the Orlando Magic's Game 1 against the Cleveland Cavaliers was how the team would respond to the pressures and intensity of the Playoffs.

The Magic are one of the youngest teams in the league. They had virtually no Playoff experience -- Joe Ingles, Gary Harris, Jonathan Isaac and Markelle Fultz were the only players with postseason experience before this year.

Their arrival to the Playoffs seemed ahead of schedule -- a question even Orlando media were asking as this playoff trip seemed more like a celebration of progress than a focus on winning.

No one would have been too surprised if the Magic got blitzed in Game 1 and did not quite know how to respond. The Cavaliers, a matchup Magic fans kind of wanted for the team's inconsistency this season and their general lack of playoff experience had done that to the Magic before this season and are certainly capable.

It looked like that would be the case in the early stages of Game 1.

Cleveland hit five 3-pointers, including two from Evan Mobley, whom the Magic looked comfortable leaving open. That helped them build a lead the Magic never truly overcame. Orlando was climbing uphill the entire way.

But Cleveland never ran away with the game either. The Cavs led by as much as 14 points and the Magic had their worst shooting game of the season. But it never felt like Orlando was going to shrink from the moment.

The team was going to be persistent and fight back. That has been a key characteristic of this team throughout the season. Nothing in that regard changed entering the Playoffs.

If Orlando has some quiet confidence after its 97-83 loss in Game 1, it is in this. The team did not seem overwhelmed by their first Playoff experience. And that is something they expected and can grow with.

"I think this group is more mature than people realize," Mosley said before Saturday's Game 1. "You have guys who understand what winning means. You have a tough group of young men who embrace every moment, big or small. They understand what they are supposed to do in every one of these moments. We have been playing tough, physical playoff basketball for the last two weeks. They embrace it and continue to fight no matter what is going on."

There was certainly some nervous energy and excitement which players and coaches acknowledged. Perhaps the Magic are still too much in a rebuilding mindset in calling for their players to enjoy this experience and soak in every moment and detail.

There is still a job to do and the Magic are capable of winning this series. Nobody wanted to throw away Game 1.

But the maturity the team showed was sticking to the team's game plan and preparation even in the face of that early deficit. Orlando continued to show its belief in the system and work that got the team here.

And slowly Orlando reeled the game back.

In the second quarter, after facing the early deficit and that first quarter blitz, saw the team get to work defensively. They made the game super ugly, forcing turnovers and holding the Cavs to 20 points.

They did it again to start the third quarter, holding Cleveland to two points for the first six minutes of the quarter. That enabled the Magic to slowly crawl back into the game and cut the deficit to five. There was suddenly a real belief Orlando could steal Game 1.

The Magic did not get through that door. They too went scoreless for three minutes with a five-point deficit. Cleveland found some space and attacked the basket and re-extended the lead. They won the middle two quarters 40-32, a huge missed opportunity for Orlando with its stellar defense.

The Magic seemed to adjust to the physicality after that feeling-out period in the first quarter and found their footing.

"I think they handled it very well," Mosley said after Saturday's game. "I think we continue to talk about how physical it's going to be. We're OK with that. We did not rattle, we did not get frustrated. We understood how the whistle is going to grow and we understand that's what the team is going to grow into. The experiences of this past week have given them that. They know exactly what it's going to be. We're not shying away from it. We will continue to embrace exactly how physical this game is going to continue to be."

The Magic did not shy away from it. In getting to the line for 30 free throws (ignore just the 19 makes), they at least showed they were willing to take contact and get to the rim -- although Orlando finished shooting just 18 for 40 in the paint, a point the team will have to improve on for Game 2.

The physicality stood up defensively. Orlando embraced the looser whistle and got into Cleveland a lot more. Once the team was able to settle down, Cleveland found it tough to get into the lane too. Jalen Suggs had several possessions where he ripped the ball away from Darius Garland (Garland and Max Strus each had five turnovers and Suggs had two steals).

Harris got a lot of criticism from Magic fans for his 0-for-5 performance. But he matched Jonathan Isaac with three steals. Harris was physical with his assignment all game and was extremely disruptive. The Magic do not make this a close game without Harris' efforts (although it is fair to say the Magic could have won with a better shooting performance from their 3-point specialist).

The Magic certainly needed a beat to find their rhythm and the tempo of this Playoff game. Orlando got blitzed a bit with the shooting. But the team settled in and matched Cleveland's physicality -- a big point for that team in the postgame -- throughout the game.

Orlando certainly seemed to raise its defensive level to match the moment and the opponent.

"I think the physicality. Stuff that is getting called in the regular season is not getting called now," Franz Wagner said of the difference between the regular season and Playoffs after Saturday's game. "Even with that, I think we did a good job adjusting and being physical ourselves. A lot more is allowed and expected on both sides. Just a little different basketball, I'd say."

Everyone knew the Magic would need some time to adjust to Playoff basketball. And figuring out how to crack this Cleveland defense will continue to be the big challenge for Orlando. The Magic will have to wait and see whether their defense will hold up again in Game 2 or whether the poor shooting will continue.

The adjustments in this series are coming. But the Magic seem to know the biggest adjustment to make is to execute better.

Despite the confidence Orlando showed defensively and in embracing the physicality of the Playoffs, this team still showed its youth and inexperience. Orlando's poor offensive execution and rushed shots in the paint or slow reads -- especially from Paolo Banchero trying to crack into the defense while facing double and triple teams -- hurt the team in the end.

But the Magic still feel they came away understanding what Playoff basketball is like. They came away believing they stood up to it and did not look like debutantes in the process.

There is still a lot of confidence in the Magic's camp. They took a heavy punch from the Cavs in Game 1 and they stood tall.

"I don't think anybody is scared of the game, or them or the moment," Banchero said after Saturday's game. "We've just got to get ready for Game 2. It's going to be fun."

One thing Orlando should feel confident about after Game 1 is that this team does not need kid's gloves. They looked like first-timers, but they did not look overwhelmed.

Next. 3 players playoff outcome 04.20.24. 3 players to determine the Orlando Magic's playoff outcome. dark

The Magic did not win, but they did not fail to meet the moment either. That sets them up for Game 2.