Wendell Carter deserves credit in Orlando Magic's resurgence

The Orlando Magic fell down 0-2 after the first two games in the playoffs to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Starting Jonathan Isaac was not working and the Cavaliers were killing the Magic on the boards. The biggest change came from inserting Wendell Carter back into the starting lineup.
Cleveland Cavaliers v Orlando Magic - Game Four
Cleveland Cavaliers v Orlando Magic - Game Four / Don Juan Moore/GettyImages

The Cleveland Cavaliers' size was dominating the Orlando Magic in the first two games, especially Jarret Allen who arguably has been the best player for the Cavs outside of Donovan Mitchell.

The rebounding and the lob threat was something Jonathan Isaac was struggling with in his new role as the starting center. The Magic needed size. Heading into Game 3 the Magic decided to turn to the regular starting five that has worked all year and Wendell Carter has shaken up the series in various ways.

As much as everyone will talk about the scoring -- particularly from the Magic's two young stars -- it is the gritty things Carter is doing that is changing this series. He has re-established the Magic's presence in the paint.

"I feel like we were a lot more physical than we were in those first two games," Carter said after Game 3. "Being the first one to hit instead of receiving the hit. I felt like that was a difference-maker.

"I went into this game, telling myself whether I score two points or 20 points, I'm going to do everything I can to make sure they are not getting as many second-chance points."

The rebounding effect has been the biggest change in Games 3 and 4.

In the first two games of the series, Allen had strong games of 16 points and 18 rebounds in Game 1 and 16 points and 20 rebounds in Game 2. Isaac had trouble guarding the lob threat and battling Allen for rebounds.

The Cavs had seemingly taken the best defender out of the series due to struggling at the point of attack and Isaac having to overhelp, leaving Allen free around the basket. The Magic never really shifted and changed the approach.

In Games 3 and 4, Allen had 15 points and eight rebounds and 21 points and nine rebounds respectively. While Allen has still be able to score, the shots have been different where the majority have been push shots and floaters, which the Magic are willing to live with.

Carter has been able to battle Allen on the glass. The 4.3 rebounds per game in this series will not jump off the stat sheet, but it has been just fighting to keep Allen off the boards and allowing the team as a whole to rebound at a higher rate.

That is exactly what the Magic needed.

"I thought he did a great job out there," coach Jamahl Mosley said after Game 3. "A lot of his stuff doesn't show up in the stat sheet. But I think he did a great job on the boards, keeping Jarrett off the glass a little bit, being physical in his hits. I think he did a fantastic job. A lot of those things don't show up in the stat sheet. But that's who he is."

Carter has also made a difference on defense because of his basketball IQ and positioning.

Carter is not a shot blocker, but he is a great defender in terms of guarding in space and contesting shots. Carter has mastered the skill of disrupting the lob threat and having the timing of giving time to the perimeter defender to get back to his man while staying in touch with a player like Allen to remove the lob threat. He does all this and still is able to put a body on Allen to rebound.

This move has also been able to unleash Jonathan Isaac. Whether it be off the bench next to Moe Wagner or next to Wendell Carter, Jonathan Isaac has been able to get back to being a help defender and the shot blocker he has been all season long. This has caused Cleveland problems getting blitzed on pick and rolls or having a shot blocker help off the weak side.

On offense, Carter is not being asked to do much but to keep Cleveland honest. Carter is averaging only 5.5 points per game and shooting a lowly 35.0 percent from the floor (7 for 20 and 4 for 12 from deep). Game 4 was his break through with 11 points on 4-for-6 shooting, including two 3-pointers.

Carter is a threat from the outside and has to continue to be aggressive. He is not going to score a ton, but when the ball swings to him, he has to be a factor, whether that is waiting on a pass at the dunker spot or spotting up from three.

A turning point in Game 4 came when Carter hit back-to-back three-pointers to give the Magic a 74-67 lead in the third quarter. Carter is going to force Cleveland to guard him on the perimeter and allow the paint to open up more for his teammates to attack.

Granted a lot of credit needs to be given to Jalen Suggs, Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner who all had big games at home. They did the bulk of the scoring.

But Carter has gone under the radar and his importance should be noted. These changes were at home and it is up to Carter to prove it will work on the road in Game 5.

The pressure is on the Cavaliers, but this is the opportunity the Magic need to take advantage of and take a chokehold of this series. To do this, the Magic need Carter to play how he played in Games 3 and 4.

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Now is the time for Carter to show he belongs and he can vital piece to help Orlando advance.

Philip Rossman-Reich contributed to this report.