Magic Have Shown Plenty of Grit and Poise in Wins This Season

by Josh Cohen

NEW YORK - Peek over box scores throughout NBA history that featured a young, inexperienced team playing on the road against an older, more seasoned opponent and there are plenty of times where the former was ahead over the latter after three quarters.

In many of those instances, however, the more experienced team overcame the deficit and prevailed.

That was not the case Wednesday at Madison Square Garden, as the Orlando Magic, one of the league’s youngest teams, outlasted the New York Knicks, a team filled with proven vets.

Perhaps a sign of growth, late in the fourth quarter the Magic resembled a team that had been there, done that.

Orlando was up five going into the final frame. They had a 10-point lead with two minutes and change left in that third quarter. Not even halfway through the fourth, though, the Knicks took the lead and appeared in complete control.

Staying composed despite the intensity of the crowd mounting, the Magic regained momentum with timely buckets and stifling defense.

One of the Magic’s key contributors during that stretch was rookie guard Jalen Suggs, who scored 13 points in his return following a one-game absence due to a sprained right ankle. Eight of his points came in the fourth, and he had the game-sealing steal that led to a Wendell Carter Jr. alley-oop slam dunk with 29 seconds left.

“Free safety. I played football. I’m a free safety,” Suggs said about that heads-up play. “I just saw that there were two running the wing and they had numbers. Really just read Derrick Rose’s eyes. He’s looking up for the pass. Normal circumstances guys just sprint back to the rim and try to protect. I knew he wanted to throw the cross-court pass and get the ball up, though. So I jumped the lane and then it was just me and ‘Dell and then that’s an easy lob.”

Several other clutch plays were made. Terrence Ross, who also came up big the last time the Magic were at MSG, telegraphed a pass for a steal and then raced the other way for a breakaway tomahawk dunk with three minutes left that put Orlando back in front.

The signature moment of the night, though, was when Franz Wagner spun away from Immanuel Quickley off the dribble and then dunked over RJ Barrett while drawing the foul.

Cole Anthony, who flirted with a triple-double with 15 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists, banked in a floater with 1:09 left that pushed the Magic’s lead to four.

If not for their textbook zone defense, which gave the Knicks fits all night, the Magic probably wouldn’t have had the opportunity to showcase their poise down the stretch. They were locked in for the full 48 minutes, causing New York to shoot just 42 percent from the field and 32 percent from 3-point range. The Knicks took 49 3-pointers, second most for them this season. Many of those attempts were contested. By keeping them out on the perimeter, the Magic stayed out of foul trouble. The Knicks took just 12 free throws.

“Our communication needs to go up way more when we go zone because a lot of things you don’t see on the baseline, sidelines,” Magic center Mo Bamba said. “I texted the group chat a few weeks back and said our zone could be really elite as a secondary (defense). We just got to go out there and communicate more on our zone.”

All four of the Magic’s wins this season came because of strong fourth-quarter performances. In the first meeting at MSG on Oct. 24, the Magic outscored the Knicks by 12 that period. On Nov. 1 at Minnesota, the Magic outscored the Timberwolves by 24 in the fourth. On Nov. 7 at home against Utah, the Magic outscored the Jazz by 17 in those final 12 minutes. Then on Wednesday, Orlando closed the game on an 18-6 run.

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