Orlando Day Trip Part II, Cavs-Magic Game Three: The Part You Want to Read

It’s been five years since the Orlando Magic made the playoffs, yet somehow six years since they hosted a playoff game.

That is not a trick statement. 

Remember that thing called the pandemic, where NBA teams were forced to play their post-season games in a bubble?  While those games were all played in Orlando, they were not played in Orlando’s Kia Center (then called Amway) but rather the friendly confines of a quarantined Walt Disney World.

Few Orlando Magic players from that roster remain.  Since then, the Magic have dismantled that old cast of characters and started from scratch, playing a bunch of young, freshly drafted talent looking to make their mark.  The Magic now boast six key players on their roster, three of whom they start, all of whom they drafted.  This time around, the Magic have largely rejected free agent superstars, opting to build this team almost entirely through the draft.  But would it work?

A fan since their inception in 1989, I took a day-cation to see what these young Magic would have in store, already down 2-0 to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the opening round of the playoffs.  With BCole off to pick up the airman in the panhandle, I flew this trip solo, deciding to splurge on some fancy seats for the occasion.

While a dear friend, Dr. Dave, looked to take his son to see Joel Embiid’s last stand (or at least Tobias Harris’) in Philadelphia, he was looking at $450 apiece for upper bowl tickets.  I got into Orlando’s Kia Center and sat comfortably into my tenth-row center court seats for $375 with tax. Such is the price differential of a large vs. small market team, in addition to Philly’s fan base being more ardent (and obviously less well-behaved) than Orlando’s.  At least that’s what I thought before the game.  I was pleasantly surprised to see Orlando Magic fans as crazed as ever and I’ve been their attending games for decades.

Not only was Game Three the first Magic home playoff game in years, but this was also the first home game in a series they thought they could win.  In 2019, as the seven-seed, they lost to Kawhi Leonard and the Toronto Raptors who would go on to win the NBA Finals.  In 2020, as the eight-seed, they lost to the Milwaukee Bucks who would win it all the following year.  While those Magic teams boasted stars like Aaron Gordon, who would eventually win a chip with Denver, this Magic team is being carefully constructed with legitimate building blocks in Paolo Banchero (top pick 2022) and Franz Wagner (8th pick 2021).  Not to be outdone is Jalen Suggs, taken fifth in that 2021 draft and who, Wednesday night would play the game of his life.

The crowd piled in, and the place was alive.  Trust me, it was loud.  But how would the team respond on its maiden voyage?

Early game jitters from Orlando’s young core vaulted the Cavs to a 10-3 lead.  It looked like Magic fans were in for much of the same.  They could ill-afford to go down three games to none.  Then came a quick Orlando 6-0 run to fire up the crowd.  Cleveland’s Jarrett Allen would have his way in the post early, with six points, four rebounds and a block in the first nine minutes.  He’d out-size and out-center Orlando’s big (but not as big) man Wendell Carter.

Hot shooting and solid play saw the Magic soon take a ten-point lead.  The crowd got louder.  Hope was all we needed.  The team responded to the energy and would never relinquish the lead.   In fact, they’d add to it relentlessly.  The scoring edge came from the Magic crashing the boards.  They held an early 20-12 edge in rebounds.

Moments later, the Magic went up by 20 on a Jonathan Isaac three-pointer and the place was in absolute disbelief.  Banchero finished the first half with 19 points as the Magic headed to the locker room up by 16.

Whether they knew it or not, this game was six years in the making, longer than that if you wanted a W.  Orlando hadn’t won a home playoff game since 2011.

Banchero wasn’t the only Magic player with a hot hand.  Jalen Suggs was unstoppable.  I turned to the guy sitting next to me and said, “I don’t know what Jalen Suggs’ career high is, but I can’t imagine it’s much higher than 18.”  He finished with 24 points on 9-of-11 shooting.  Note: his career high is 27.  Every time Suggs hit a bucket, he’d respond to the appreciative crowd, firing us up even further.  The energy in the building was as palpable as it had been in years but this time, with a hope that hadn’t existed in quite some time. 

Thursday night was a beatdown in every conceivable statistic.  The Magic shot 51% from the floor, the Cavs shot 39%.  The Cavs were outrebounded by 19.  The starters plus/minus numbers were all through the roof.  The Magic had more steals, more three pointers made and fewer turnovers.  The only statistic the Cavs led the game in was blocks and that’s only because the Magic were getting more offensive rebounds for more shot attempts to have blocked.

The lead at one point in the game was 90-58.  Later, the Magic led by 40!  They’d scored over thirty points in each of the first three quarters while the Cavs couldn’t muster more than 25 in any of them.  Orlando outscored Cleveland in every quarter, including by 19 in the third.  For a while it seemed every offensive play was a bucket and every play on the other end was a stop.  That’s not far from the truth.

On a glorious Thursday night in Central Florida, the young Orlando Magic bested the Cleveland Cavaliers in every facet of the game.  The crowd filtered out of the arena with chants of “Let’s Go Magic!” echoing down Church Street to Orange Avenue.  Fans were high-fiving complete strangers, for good reason.  We Magic fans hadn’t had much to cheer for lately, at least not in a game that mattered.

I feared Orlando’s guard combination of Suggs, Fultz and Anthony would be no match for the offensively inclined Darius Garland and Donovan Mitchell but that couldn’t be further from the truth.  Mitchell and Garland were held to a combined 18 points.  They combined for 45 per game in the regular season.  NBA Coach of the Year candidate Jamahl Mosley did an outstanding job rotating the three.

And I am absolutely impressed with Paolo Banchero.  With an Orlando Magic scoring legend, Tracy McGrady, watching in the front row, Banchero did not back down from the challenge of his first home playoff game.  He scored 31 while putting up heat check after heat check.  This team is undoubtedly his and will go as far as he carries them, now and in the future.  If he and his teammates continue to play as they did on Thursday night, that could be farther, and perhaps sooner, than many people expect.

“I don’t think people realize how much of a difference it makes when you score and the whole arena erupts every time. Definitely, give a lot of credit to the Magic faithful,” said Banchero after the game.  Suggs shared similar sentiments.  They suddenly realized how long we’d waited.  This is a young Orlando team that fed off the crowd all night.  The give-and-take was a beautiful thing to be a part of.

On a night featuring the long-awaited NFL draft, Orlando Magic fans could have cared less who went where and with what pick.  They have top picks of their own to celebrate. 

The Magic, now 35 years in existence, have generations of fans, from young to old, who have rooted for their teams, from the Shaq and Penny years to T-Mac to Dwight.  Banchero and company kick off a fourth generation of contending teams for Orlando to root for.

If Thursday is any indication, that the future shines bright.

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8 Replies to “Orlando Day Trip Part II, Cavs-Magic Game Three: The Part You Want to Read”

  1. Great read… sounds like a fantastic experience, watching the rebirth of a team. Loved the videos & pix too. Thx SC…glad you had a fun time in yr old stomping grounds.

  2. Great Magic Win and great seeing you unc! This young team is going to continue to build and get better!

  3. Pingback: Orlando Day Trip Part I: The Part You DON’T Want to Read - Sports Chump

  4. PJD…

    If they both advance, you’ll be able to watch them at the same time as they’ll be playing each other.

    May have to make a night of it at Albright.

  5. DJ Jewce Kidd was spinning the hits on the Mich Ultra party deck. I spared the world our videos, altho they’re priceless.

    Anyone attending a Magic game in person needs to go see the Kidd on the ones and twos!

  6. Pingback: Franz Wagner and the Lost Art of the Left-Handed Lay-Up - Sports Chump

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