The Magic started this one on a quick 7-2 run, clearly just more ready to play than the Suns. For most of the first quarter, it looked as if the game might get away from the home team early thanks entirely to their sloppy transition defense.
Fortunately, they did not let it get out of hand. Coach Jay Triano pulled the trigger early on a lineup change, inserting Dragan Bender and Tyler Ulis as replacements for starters Mike James and Alex Len. That Bender-Marquese Chriss frontcourt has been a work in progress all year, but the ability to switch matchups on defense allowed them to counteract some of the problems that the Orlando frontcourt can create.
T.J. Warren scored 10 hustle points in his eight first-quarter minutes to keep the Suns close. They managed to keep pace with the Magic despite Devin Booker’s four-point opening period.
Triano’s rotations make it legitimately fascinating just to watch who plays, and when. On to the second.
Josh Jackson decided that he’d like to purchase the second quarter of this game. He indeed owned it. After a transition dunk that lit up Talking Stick Resort Arena in the first quarter, Jackson made it two early in the second.
Then there was this block, on about as high a jump as I think is physically possible:
Mike James, who was visibly frustrated when Triano took him out of the game early in the first quarter, came in around the six-minute mark. He immediately rose up for threes on consecutive possessions, putting the Suns up four.
The real story in the second was Jackson. He is the kind of player who builds off of his own momentum, and starting the game off making plays defensively really got him going. Triano trusted him to stay on the floor — despite a couple of mistakes — for almost the entire quarter.
In return, Jackson rewarded his coach with 14 points and several big defensive plays, even giving the Suns the lead at one point. Eventually, Orlando was able to score their way back into the game and take a 64-63 lead going into the half.
The Magic quickly got their lead up to 13 thanks to a few difficult points by Aaron Gordon and Evan Fournier. Orlando’s talent really started to show up as they broke open the big lead. Then again, Josh Jackson was also notably absent for this stretch after playing the whole second quarter. In fact, he didn’t check in until the 3:52 mark in the third.
The length and versatility that the Magic bring was a really awkward matchup for the Suns all night, and it showed especially through the first eight minutes of the third. Even when the Suns could find mismatches, they had trouble finishing over smaller or shorter players.
In the end, it was the talent difference that ended up hurting the Suns and let Orlando build their lead. Without Booker’s scoring (six points through three quarters), it’s difficult for this team to find good shots.
At the end of the period, both Booker and Triano were called for technicals after arguing over a Booker charge.
Chriss picked up his fourth and fifth fouls, but due to a Jared Dudley leg injury and Tyson Chandler’s absence, Chriss stayed in the game. He was a negative the entire time he was out there. Orlando’s bigs have been one of their biggest strengths this season, and Chriss stood no chance against them.
The lead ballooned to 22, though, at the nine minute mark. That’s by no means Chriss’s fault — the entire team struggled to find offense consistently and made too many mistakes in transition and on defense.
Len may have been the team’s best overall player tonight. He continues to struggle finishing, but got to the line consistently and made his free throws, in addition to picking up a heavy rebounding load as a starter.
With around seven minutes to go, the Magic put Mario Hezonja and Arron Afflalo in, signaling the end of the competitive portion of the game. A few minutes later, Marreese Speights joined them on the floor.
Orlando won, 128-112.