Jalen Suggs Leads Orlando Magic to Comeback Victory in Summer League Opener

by Josh Cohen

ORLANDO - This past April, in what was at the time the biggest basketball game of his life, Jalen Suggs banked in a game-winning, buzzer-beating 3-pointer against UCLA to send Gonzaga to the NCAA championship game. Although the stakes were much lower on Monday night playing in his first ever NBA game, the 20-year-old from St. Paul, Minnesota proved once again that he has a knack for rising to the occasion when the pressure builds.

Just a week-and-a-half since he heard his name called at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn as the fifth overall pick by the Orlando Magic, Suggs stepped up when his team needed him most, as the savvy and poised point guard knocked down several big shots late and made critical defensive stops to catapult the Magic to a 91-89 victory in overtime over the Golden State Warriors at the Thomas & Mack Center in their summer league opener.

The two most significant shots he made came in the final stretch of the extra session. First with 1:18 remaining he scored on a go-ahead driving layup and then on Orlando’s next possession following a steal, R.J. Hampton found him near the basket for an easy deuce to put the Magic up four. To secure the win, Suggs buried a pair of free throws with 15 seconds left.

The 6-foot-4, 205-pounder finished the night with 24 points, nine rebounds and three blocks, all game highs. One of those rejections came with 25 seconds remaining in regulation when he denied fellow 2021 lottery draft pick Moses Moody at the rim.

“I feel like a little kid on Christmas, to be honest,” he said. “It was so much fun. Getting out there and running again. Getting in that rhythm, getting in the flow. I hadn’t played five on five, besides yesterday (at practice) since the national championship game. Just getting out there and running around, being with teammates. It was a bunch of fun.”

Of course, Suggs wasn’t the only Magic rookie making his NBA debut. Franz Wagner, selected three spots after Suggs in last month’s draft, shook off some early rust and made an impact down the stretch. The 6-foot-9, 220-pounder and brother of Moritz Wagner, whom he will team up with in Orlando, recorded five points, six rebounds, two assists and one steal.

Dubbed a basketball unicorn by many, Wagner is using summer league as a tool to learn the nuances of the NBA game and get a feel for the league’s pace, which is undoubtedly much faster than it was in college. Another objective of his is building comradery with his new teammates.

For him, it’s about staying present and taking it one game at a time. He’s always been a very composed player, which is one of the many reasons why the Magic were ecstatic to select him eighth overall in the draft.

“As long as I try to do my best and stay confident, I think good things will happen,” he said.

It wasn’t just the Magic’s newbies getting their feet wet. Jamahl Mosley, the 15th head coach in Magic history, was on the bench for the first time since getting hired on July 12. One of the things that he liked about his squad was that they didn’t buckle after falling behind by double digits. They stayed on track and kept fighting despite some struggles on the offensive end in the second and third quarters.

What was also encouraging to him was the willingness of the team’s guards to battle with the big boys for rebounds. Suggs, as mentioned earlier, had nine boards, while Cole Anthony and Hampton combined to grab 10 of them.

“I think it’s a big, big, big complement for us if they can do that on a consistent basis because we talk about good offense starts being able to secure the rebound defensively,” Mosley said. “When you have guards that can rebound and get out and push it, that allows you to play with pace. It allows you to play with space and the pass.”

Although both played big minutes in their rookie campaigns, particularly late in the year, Anthony and Hampton were making their first summer league appearances after the event last year was cancelled due to the pandemic. Anthony, who averaged 12.9 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4.1 assists last season in 47 games, scored six points and dished out two assists in Monday’s victory. Hampton, whom Orlando acquired at the trade deadline from the Denver Nuggets, registered nine points and three assists. They combined for eight turnovers, though, which is something that must get cleaned up going forward.

Someone that probably nobody expected would jump off the screen in their Magic debut was Janis Timma, a 29-year-old Latvian forward whose rights were acquired by Orlando in 2015 from the Memphis Grizzlies. Known for his outside shooting and slashing ability, the 6-foot-8, 226-pounder displayed those skills and more as he tallied 11 points, six rebounds and two blocks. The Magic outscored the Warriors by 19 when he was on the floor. Ignas Brazdeikis, who finished last season with the Magic, added 12 points off the bench.

The Warriors were led by their star rookie, Jonathan Kuminga. Although he struggled with his shooting, the 18-year-old filled up the stat sheet with 16 points, six rebounds, three steals and one block. Moody, Golden State’s other lottery pick, had 15 points. The Magic and Warriors were the only two teams in the 2021 draft with a pair of lottery picks.

Orlando will next take on the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday at 6 p.m. The Cavs lost their opening game on Sunday to the Houston Rockets.

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