Orlando Magic's selflessness guided them to playoffs

The Orlando Magic punched their ticket to the Playoffs, but it was several little moments of selflessness that defined their raucous win at the Kia Center.
Jonathan Isaac made a huge impact on defense for the Orlando Magic as they clinched their Playoff spot against the Milwaukee Bucks.
Jonathan Isaac made a huge impact on defense for the Orlando Magic as they clinched their Playoff spot against the Milwaukee Bucks. / Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports

Wendell Carter was questionable to play all weekend with back spasms after he left Friday's loss to the Philadelphia 76ers. The Orlando Magic though had already made a decision. Coach Jamahl Mosley was going to start Jonathan Isaac in the Orlando Magic's win-and-in game against the Milwaukee Bucks on Sunday.

The Magic needed a change to refresh their starts for this critical game. Someone was going to have to sacrifice.

Carter was unsure if he would be able to play though. And so it was easy for him to go to the bench and have his minutes controlled. The Magic were going to see if they needed him.

After an up-and-down first half, Carter walked to the scorer's table with about five minutes left to play in the second quarter. Thirty seconds later Carter walked back to the bench on his own accord.

As Mosley put it, that was Carter's decision. He told his coach to let things ride and that Isaac, already playing heavier than normal minutes, was key to the team maintaining its defense. The lineup was working and dominating on defense -- during a 19-3 run that helped flip the game on its head.

This was a sign of the team's selflessness. When the Magic said they wanted to play by committee and for each other, here was a visible example of it. Carter sacrificed his minutes to help the team win. It is something that has defined the team.

That selflessness has defined the team all year. It would make sense that this is what got them into the Playoffs.

"That's the power of this group," Mosley said after Sunday's win. "I was getting ready to put him in. He said Jonathan's going, let him go. That's the power of this group. That's the power of his team. When a guy is willing to check in the game and then another guy is going and he's helping things and our flow is going, as a coach I need to shut up and let them do what they're going to do. That's the power of this group."

The numbers might suggest Carter's instincts were off. The Magic tied the game but also gave up a foul on a Khris Middleton three. The Magic went from down two to down one when Carter finally checked in for the final two minutes of the quarter.

What goes around comes around though. Carter made his impact too.

The Magic won those final two minutes by six points to take a five-point lead to the locker room. Carter did not score in that time, but he ended the game with seven points and two rebounds (both offensive rebounds) in 14:17.

Orlando was +27 in his minutes as the Magic rolled to a win in the fourth quarter. The good karma came back around for him.

"It speaks to who Wendell is and his commitment to this team," Isaac said after Sunday's win. "And then he came in and did his thing and gave us a huge boost. It felt like that first five-minute stretch he was absolutely fantastic. Kudos to him and get him back moving forward."

This lever worked overall though. Isaac did his thing too, playing a huge role for the Magic in their clinching game.

He scored only 10 points on 4-for-11 shooting. But he had eight rebounds and three blocks. In the second quarter, he slid over to reject a Khris Middleton layup.

Those kinds of plays have always boosted the team. Jonathan Isaac flipped the game on its head -- even Milwaukee Bucks coach Doc Rivers acknowledged the Bucks kept putting him in pick and rolls and paid the price for involving him on defense. His energy helped the Magic erase that deficit.

Orlando has always had to find a way to maximize Isaac's minutes. And this game certainly showed what Isaac can bring. Orlando has had to ask Isaac to play out of position at center -- he said all season he was learning it on the fly -- and that took some sacrifice too.

Leaving him out there felt like an easy and correct decision. It paid off.

"When I saw him out there just flourishing, doing what JI does, feeling good, looking good, I'd rather him keep his confidence," Carter said after Sunday's win. "He had an opportunity to be out there after you've been in and out of the lineup a lot, he had the opportunity to play tonight. He stepped up really big. I felt like for the team it was more important for him to be out there so he could just play and do what he does."

But that little moment is everything about this Magic team. It is the maturity of this team and the selflessness that defines who they are and why they have experienced success this season.

Defense and the defensive mentality the Magic have has been central to that. To be great on defense requires a certain level of sacrifice. To be the third-best defense in the NBA means everyone is pulling for each other and willing to do something extra.

It should be no surprise then that this team has acts of selflessness -- even something as small as Goga Bitadze letting Anthony Black take the points on a breakaway 2-on-0 dunk at the end of the fourth quarter.

There is trust there too. And that is part of the Magic's success.

"It's super special," Carter said after Sunday's win. "We all believed it from day one. To finally see it all come together with the last game being very important to us and pulling it out the way that we did. I'm excited to be a part of this group."

So much of it starts with Isaac. He makes giving that extra effort that much easier with how he changes the game.

Having a do-it-all defender who can lock up players on the perimeter and defend the rim at such a high level is a luxury. The Magic are going to spend their postseason trying to find however they can maximize his minutes -- expect more minutes at center in the Playoffs.

Everyone knows how important he is to the team. As Carter said, he is "undeniably the best defender in the league" when he is healthy. He commits himself to the team to clean up their mistakes and give them the license to be more aggressive. Everyone the team is just happy to see him healthy.

That is the attitude that has defined this team. It was on display in the team's biggest moment. It will become necessary again in the Playoff series.

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But the Magic have often said they play by committee. They truly showed what that means in winning Sunday.