Milwaukee entered Saturday’s contest sporting both a top-five offensive (5th) and defensive rating (1st) in the league.
If that wasn’t enough for the Magic to deal with, they were also playing without their starting power forward, Aaron Gordon. Gordon sat out the game after injuring his back in the second half of Orlando’s contest Friday night against the Nets.
Milwaukee was led by their MVP-candidate, Giannis Antetokounmpo, who scored 25 points and pulled down 13 rebounds. Eric Bledsoe was also superb against the Magic, scoring a game-high 30 points (12-14 from the field).
The Bucks were rested, not having played a game since Wednesday, and it showed Saturday night. Milwaukee outscored the Magic 31-2 in transition. The Magic were playing the dreaded second game of a back-to-back.
The story to begin the game was Jonathan Isaac picking up two quick fouls. The second-year forward appeared to block Antetokounmpo at the rim on Milwaukee’s fourth possession of the game. But the referees saw things differently, thinking Isaac got the All-Star across the arm. On Milwaukee’s next possession, Isaac appeared to take Antetokounmpo head-on through the chest, but a blocking foul was called (opposed to an offensive foul on the Bucks).
Brook Lopez was incredibly active in the first quarter, blocking four shots in the paint within the game’s first six minutes (finished with six blocks).
The Bucks built a first quarter lead with an 11-2 run, but the Magic closed the opening period strong behind a three-point make from Jarell Martin. The rarely-used forward was called upon Saturday most likely due to Gordon’s absence.
Martin knocked down two more three-point attempts in the second quarter to give the Magic a huge first half lift (9 first half points).
Orlando’s transition defense was severely lacking in the first half against the Bucks. The Magic were outscored 18-0 in transition and trailed by double-digits at intermission (59-46).
“Without watching the film, to me – that seemed like the biggest difference in the game,” Steve Clifford said in his post-game conference. “It wasn’t just Giannis. It was Bledsoe, Brogdon, and Middleton. (Stopping the ball in transition) was a big emphasis going in to the game and we weren’t able to do it.”
The Magic went back to their hot hand in the third quarter, riding Vucevic for 10 more points in the period. The Magic cut Milwaukee’s double-digit lead they held for most of the contest to five behind nine straight points from Terrence Ross to close the quarter out.
Another Martin “three” on Orlando’s first possession of the fourth quarter cut Milwaukee’s lead to just two points, but the Bucks quickly stretched their lead back to double-digits in a matter of just over four minutes. The Bucks got a strong contribution in the fourth from Bledsoe, who scored 12 points in the quarter. The veteran guard seemed to really force the action and take it right at rookie Isaiah Briscoe.
A D.J. Augustin long jumper with 4:29 remaining in the game drew Orlando within four points, but that was as close as the Magic would get.
Six Magic players scored in double-figures, led by Vucevic’s 27 points. Orlando knocked down 14 three-point attempts to keep them in the game (14-32, 44%), but the Bucks were just too much to deal with (especially early in the game).
“We can’t win playing defense like we have these last few games here,” Clifford said after the game. “That’s the best defense in the NBA. 108 (points) at home, you’ve got to give yourself a chance (defensively) to win the game.”
Orlando now heads to Atlanta to take on the Hawks Monday afternoon. The game is set for a 3:00 PM EST tip and will be televised on NBATV as part of the league’s celebration of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.