Did you see it?
It is a simple question and something that becomes evident whenever you watch Jalen Suggs.
It is impossible to miss him and the impact he can make on the floor defensively. And sometimes he will let you know it.
Like the Orlando Magic’s first possession of the game when he took a rebound and raced to the other end of the floor, finishing over the defense before it even knew what hit it.
Or the first quarter play when he drained a three, got back to defend Pascal Siakam in the post and dove in front of him for a steal before hitting a trailing three.
That is Suggs in a nutshell.
The question is not, “Did you see it?” The question is: Did you feel it?
The Orlando Magic are building their defensive identity one game at a time and the team is finding he contagious energy to build a defense to last.
Did you feel the energy he created in the rest of the team and how it fed the team’s defensive energy and effort? Did you feel every hit and bump that led to a deflection or turnover? Did you feel how the Orlando Magic dominated the Toronto Raptors 126-107?
Game by game, the Magic are embodying who they want to be and building their way of playing. And game by game, other teams are starting to succumb to the pressure and intensity this Magic team – the best defense in the league by defensive rating – is putting on them each game.
“His energy is just contagious,” Mosley said after Tuesday’s game. “Our guys know that when he comes to the bench and he’s fired up and he is getting the crowd going, it’s just incredible how he is willing to throw his body everywhere to be a lockdown defender.”
That energy has been contagious indeed and it has helped the Magic establish themselves as one of the best defenses in the league.
And everyone knows it.
The Magic told everyone in the preseason they would be a top five defensive team. Opposing coaches have talked about how the Magic get after teams with their length and athleticism. They tell the media about how difficult it is to deal with the team’s length and physicality.
Usually, you expect that from a big man like Goga Bitadze (do not worry, there is plenty of that). You do not always see that from the guards. And this team has embraced a complete physical approach.
It is impossible not to see this team and its defensive effort playing out.
“That’s how I have always played,” Suggs said after Tuesday’s game. “I don’t really know how to play the game any other way. The beauty is that I get to continue to work on how to harness it and how to apply it in different situations. . . . Seeing the boys get energized, stand up and cheer for me when I do it, makes me want to go and do it again.”
Suggs it seems was everywhere. Even his plays that did not work just left your jaw dropped – he fouled Siakam on a third-quarter dunk attempt but got a lot of ball as he met the veteran forward at the rim. Suggs ended the next possession with an and-1 layup, yelling at the boisterous crowd for good measure.
Mosley said for the second straight game said that Suggs nearly played himself to exhaustion. That is an ideal the team is aiming for with this group. An ideal of a team playing with full effort.
The Magic got defensive contributions from everyone, and it is clear to see how committed everyone is on that end and locking into the gameplan and rotations every night and helping each other when there are slips or mistakes.
Even facing down their second-half demons with an 11-point halftime lead, Orlando was not going to relent on its home floor.
“I think that’s just how you want to start the game,” Paolo Banchero said after Tuesday’s win. “You want to set the tone on defense and that fuels our offense. That’s the focus game in and game out. Whatever the offensive gameplan is, it starts with our defense. That’s just a mentality the whole team has taken on. I think we’ve been doing a good job starting fast.”
Suggs has long represented what this Magic team wants to be – tireless, pestering and unrelenting. There are not many Magic teams that seem to play with this persistent energy – and comparisons to the 2000 Heart & Hustle team seem fairly apt at this point.
But everyone is making their impact and embracing this identity. Everyone has come to understand how defense is what starts things for the Magic. It should be no coincidence the team has won four straight since the disappointing effort against the Brooklyn Nets last week.
That defensive energy starts with Suggs, but it does not end there for sure. It feeds to everyone and a team that is completely bought in.
“We strap up, it’s as simple as that,” Cole Anthony said after Tuesday’s win. “We all take pride. We have a few dudes on this team between Jalen and JI who I like to call the heads of the snake on the defensive end. Those are two dudes with all-defensive team potential. I just know for me, I’m on the bench watching how hard Jalen plays on the defensive end and I want to play that hard. That energy is contagious.”
The defensive numbers from Tuesday’s win are staggering but still somehow commonplace for the team.
Orlando gave up only 107 points and put in a 104.9 defensive rating despite giving up 50.7 percent shooting from the floor and 14-for-28 shooting from three. Orlando forced 24 turnovers for 31 points and scored 23 fast-break points – to just nine for Toronto.
Suggs had two steals to go with his 18 points. Goga Bitadze had five blocks – to go with five points and six assists in the game. Franz Wagner added three steals with 17 points.
Defense is certainly not just about counting stats. But it was easy to see the pressure the Magic were constantly applying to the Raptors and how the Magic were able to close the vice grip and generate offense off their stops.
But that is who this team is. And what this team is trying to build.
“It’s our identity. That’s who we are,” Mosley said after Tuesday’s win. “We said it from training camp, we want to be a top-five defensive team. These guys have to know that and you have guys that want that. I think when you have guys who want to along with a great coaching staff that does a great job of putting these guys in position to understand the gameplan and detailing our work, it makes for a very good defensive team.”
Orlando is well on its way to achieving that goal. The team has repeatedly found its way defensively throughout the season.
That has been a clear building block for this team’s early success, putting the team potentially in a position to advance in the In-Season Tournament with the final game Friday at home against the Boston Celtics.