Orlando Magic's growth in the clutch is fun

The Orlando Magic are still a growing team and their mistakes are inexperience are still clear. But they are also growing up and they can see that with how they finish games.
Paolo Banchero and the Orlando Magic are growing and finding ways to win clutch games to lift the team.
Paolo Banchero and the Orlando Magic are growing and finding ways to win clutch games to lift the team. / Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports

125. Magic Hawks Final 01.07.24. 117. 38. Final/. 110

The end of games are supposed to be serious.

Everything gets decided in those moments and the Orlando Magic are in the business of trying to win games and stay up in the Eastern Conference playoff race. They need every win they can get through a tough January and with so many key players out of the lineup.

The end of games though are supposed to be fun.

That is the moment a player like Paolo Banchero lives for. It is what he and his teammates look forward to and what they know they will need to execute to get where they want to go. If you are winning, there is nothing better than celebrating a big shot or a big victory.

It is the ultimate sign of a team's growth.

As much as the team focuses on so many other aspects of their game, coach Jamahl Mosley continues to say that the team has to play with joy.

So if that means Jalen Suggs is going to gesture and pump up the crowd so be it. If that means Paolo Banchero is going to flex after an and-1 or give Jalen Johnson the too-small after a big overtime bucket, so be it. They are making the play and they are going to enjoy the moment.

This kind of growth is supposed to be fun. And to finish and execute with that newfound experience is part of what has made the Magic so special.

This Magic team is growing up in front of everyone's eyes.

"I think we're getting to the point where we are not phased by close games," Banchero said after Sunday's game. "I think, for me at least being a rookie, I'm not saying I was afraid of the big moment, but it would get to that nut-cutting time and you would feel that pressure and anxiousness that plays have to be made, we can't lose, we might have a lead and we don't want to lose it.

"I think all of that is gone this year. When we are in a close game or overtime, there is a sense of calm throughout the coaches and the players and myself and I think it showed."

The Magic are getting better in clutch time situations. And that was evident in how they played against the Hawks in a 117-110 overtime victory. Orlando hit several clutch shots, but it was their star in Banchero carrying them across the finish line.

He had eight of his 35 points in overtime, hitting several tough shots over the defense to ensure the Magic came out with the victory. The critical shot was indeed Bancheor hitting that turnaround jumper of Johnson as the Magic hunted their matchups and raced ahead for the win.

Orlando knows it has a bona fide star and they are riding him as far as the team can and trusting this second-year player to make the decisions that decide the game.

"He's a winner," coach Jamahl Mosley said after Sunday's game. "I'll probably say the same exact thing every single time. He is going to find a way to help the team win whatever that looks like, finding guys, finding mismatches, defensive assignments. This young man is growing more and more each and every game about what he has to do and the responsibility he possesses with this team and his team trusts what he is doing."

The Magic are not perfect, but they continue to step up and deliver big wins. Especially down so many key players, the team is still finding a way to scratch out victories.

In all, Orlando is 12-7 in clutch situations this year. They have the fourth-most "clutch" victories (when the game is within five points in the final five minutes. The team still has a lot of games that become clutch games because they lose leads and the team has an overall net rating of -1.5 points per 100 possessions with a 99.3 offensive rating in clutch situations.

There are not so many of those fun clutch buckets for the Magic. They are still learning to close games out.

That is part of the lesson of this game too. There were still those familiar hiccups -- including a similar ending as the Magic saw in their Mexico City game against the Hawks.

Orlando led by seven with 3:48 to play after Jalen Suggs hit a big three-pointer and did his normal celebrating to the crowd. But Atlanta closed the game on a 12-5 run. Orlando's offense got a bit stagnant as the team tried to hunt mismatches for Banchero and the team felt a bit flat.

The Hawks eventually tied the game on a Saddiq Bey dunk as he cut to the basket with the Magic scrambling to contain Trae Young. Orlando got a great look in response, foregoing a timeout to let Banchero run a pick and roll. He found Caleb Houstan for an open three that rimmed out.

That is the part that could have broken the Magic. They did not necessarily play poorly down the stretch, the Hawks just made shots and got to the foul line (Houstan even hit a huge three with a minute to play to put the Magic up by four and seemingly put the game away).

But this is part of learning the waves and ups and downs of close game situations. The team had to respond in overtime. A more inexperienced tema might not have been able to. But this team did.

"Learning how to win and understanding what is important and what is needed in those moments, the poise that we showed, knowing things that we needed to get done which was big defensive stops and big defensive rebounds," Mosley said of what the team learned in Sunday's win. "And what it comes down to is making big shots as well."

The Magic have had plenty of these growing moments throughout the last few years -- whether that was responding to get an overtime win against the Miami Heat a month after an overtime loss to the same team back in February 2023. This time it was understanding what the team needed to do and how to respond after the double-overtime loss to the Sacramento Kings last week.

Every experience has helped this team find some calm and some poise to close games out. And this is a team that typically learns from those experiences. And that is what is happening with the Magic.

This is what the Magic want to see and experience. Their young team is finding its way.

"I think just having fun in those moments," Banchero said after Sunday's win. "At least for me, that's the most fun part of the game is the last five minutes and overtime when you can make plays to put your team over the edge."

Orlando Magic Daily Mailbag: Looking to the future. dark. Next. Mailbag 01.05.24

Right now, it is a lot of fun getting there. How can you not have fun watching this team grow up and mature? The results certainly suggest it.