Paolo Banchero was scoring at will in the first half in the kind of way that only All-Stars score and the kind of way that explains why he is such a special player. The 6-foot-10, 250-pound forward was bulldozing his way through the lane in the half-court and driving with speed and force in transition.
The Indiana Pacers could do nothing but foul -- and they did plenty with Banchero taking 11 of his 16 free throws in the first half.
Late in the second quarter, Paolo Banchero got the ball in transition and all Bennedict Mathurin could do was try to get in the way and pray he got a charge. He did not as Banchero finished over him and drew the foul.
After Banchero fell to the floor, he mocked swimming on the floor.
Whatever he meant with it -- the Magic were rolling at the time and led by 14 at the half and Banchero said after the game it was his "surf celebration" -- it is the most apt lesson for the Magic from this game against the Pacers and really for the whole week.
Just keep swimming. Just keep pushing forward. Just keep finding that joy and getting to the basket.
Just keep plugging along. Take the punches and just keep going.
The Pacers fought back in the third quarter, taking a brief lead in the third quarter. But the Magic did not really blink. They did not crumble or let the Pacers get too far away. Cole Anthony and Gary Harris hit critical threes to steady the ship and put the Magic back in the lead.
This time for good.
Banchero and the defense finished the deal, holding the Pacers to 18 points in the final quarter. Banchero made two critical layups down the stretch and kept the pressure on the paint to put the game out of reach.
The Pacers were not coming back in a 117-110 Magic win at Gainbridge Fieldhouse on Saturday. Orlando made sure of that in a mature and needed victory to snap a four-game losing streak.
All the team did was keep swimming and never lose themselves through all the pressure of the game.
"We knew it wasn't going to be like last game," Banchero said after Saturday's game. "We weren't going to beat them by 40 again. We knew they were going to put up much more of a fight and they were going to go on a run. When they went on their run in the third, we just came to the bench, told each other to stay poised, stay under control and put together some stops. We were able to do that."
Things were perhaps too easy in the first half to lull the team into a sense of security. The Magic got 23 points from Banchero in the first half in a dominant showing for the second-year forward on his way to 34 points. The Magic had 42 of their 64 points in the paint in the first half. They had 27 of their 41 free throw attempts in the first 24 minutes.
That is how Orlando built a 14-point halftime lead and seemed like they were skating to an easy win. And while the team played some strong defense, Indiana scores on everybody. The Magic's overwhelming offense -- 146.0 points per 100 possessions in the first half -- was enough to put them comfortably in the lead.
But that would not last and the Pacers were going to hit shots.
Indiana outscored Orlando 33-20 as Orlando turned it over five times and made only 7 of 17 shots. The Pacers hit five of seven 3-pointers and dominated the inside. As coach Rick Carlisle said after the game, the Magic punched first and the Pacers cannot keep needing that to wake them up.
Indiana did wake up. And previously this week, the Magic might have let that knock them off course.
They let a three-point barrage from the Miami Heat in the second quarter derail a chance to extend their home win streak. They let a brief three-point barrage in the third quarter against the Milwaukee Bucks put them too far behind the 8-ball to steal that win on the road.
Orlando left that game against Milwaukee confident the team had fixed some things and played a good game against an elite opponent. That just needed to carry over.
That third quarter was a gut check for a young team trying to prove its maturity and that it had turned a corner as a group -- both trying snap a losing streak and also in understanding how to manage the ups and downs of a game.
"I think it just starts with defense honestly, getting a couple of stops in a row," Franz Wagner said after Saturday's game. "Then executing on offense and seeing how they are guarding us. Just executing our game really. Obviously, we have P out there creating mismatches all over the floor. I think we did a good job getting P the ball and letting him make decisions."
Banchero goes a long way as he continues to add to his All-Star credentials. And he came up big throughout the game.
But young teams are not supposed to handle things this way. Young teams are meant to struggle with this. And the Magic have struggled with this. The important thing for the team's long-term hopes and development is that they learn and improve on this facet of the game.
This was not merely taking care of business. This was beating a difficult and tricky offensive team on the road when all the momentum and crowd was going against them.
They had a great gameplan they executed well, switching between a full-switching scheme to fighting around screens to keep the Pacers off the 3-point line (they still made 15 of 34 for the game). They sought out players in transition most of all to try to cap the Pacers' biggest weapon.
Orlando had to prove it could stick to its principles and reel back in its defense to get the win. They aced that challenge.
"It's the resiliency," coach Jamahl Mosley said after Saturday's game. "I think understanding that teams are going to go on a run and these guys went on a great run. They hit some big shots. they came out firing after halftime. We expected that. Our guys did not blink. They said, OK, we have to settle ourselves down. We executed offensively and down the stretch, we got some big-time stops."
The Magic certainly would like it to happen sooner. But Orlando was able to snap back to attentiona nd shut down Indiana in the fourth quarter while finding its shots and its ability to live in the paint -- Orlando went from 10 points in the paint and four free throw attempts in the third quarter to 12 points in the paint and 10 free throw attempts in the fourth quarter.
It was not perfect, but it did the job. And in the end, that is what matters for Orlando.
There is still a lot of growing up for this Magic team to do. The team is still looking to take those all-important next steps. But this season is about the progress the team is making. And Saturday was absolutely a major step forward.
Orlando showed maturity and poise on the road to secure a needed victory. Everything felt right about this team with the way it played. And it feels like something the Magic should be able to do over and over again.