Postgame Report: Magic at Bucks

by John Denton

MILWAUKEE – Going into Saturday night’s game against unbeaten Milwaukee, the Orlando Magic knew they had their work cut out trying to contain elite players Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe because of the 3-point shooters that the Bucks flood the floor with to deter double-teaming.

What they didn’t count on was the rest of Antetokounmpo’s lightly regarded supporting cast – namely Malcolm Brogdon, Donte DiVincenzo and Pat Connaughton – torching them on the defensive end of the floor all night.

Milwaukee’s pick-your-poison plan, one it has used all season to annihilate opposing defenses, was presented to Orlando on Saturday at the sparkling, new Fiserv Forum. Just like the others before them, the Magic had very few answers in a 113-91 loss that grew lopsided in the second half and was heavy on frustration and exasperated expressions.

``Every one of those cutting baskets (for Milwaukee), it’s a mistake,’’ Magic coach Steve Clifford fumed. ``I think they had 18 and that’s without watching the tape. Those are crushing.

``It’s the same thing that happened the other night (in a loss to Portland),’’ Clifford continued. ``Giannis is going to blow by people and Middleton is going to blow by people, but for two games now we’ve had blow-bys from (opposing) players who are just good players. It can’t work that way. They’re all good (players) and I’m not saying it’s easy, but we’ve got to get a one-on-one mentality where we take away strengths and we aren’t getting crushed off the first dribble.’’

Orlando (2-4) was hoping that Milwaukee (6-0) playing a second night in a row and for a fourth time in six nights would give it an advantage, but not even fatigue can slow down the surging Bucks now. Milwaukee shot 50 from the floor, drilled 10 3-pointers and got solid production from Antetokounmpo. And, as the game grew more one-sided, the Magic’s lack of shooting was never more apparent than it was on Saturday.

Forwards Aaron Gordon and Jonathan Isaac were purposefully left open and dared to shoot from the perimeter and both struggled to find the range. Gordon (nine points and five rebounds) missed all six of his 3-point shots, while Isaac (two points and three rebounds) was off target on each of his three 3-point tries. Both have shown growth with those shots at times this season, but they shot the ball with little confidence and even less success.

``We’ve got to make shots. We weren’t making shots all night,’’ said Gordon, who was three of 15 from the floor. ``We can’t allow the lack of shot-making to affect our defense.’’

The Magic, who were hoping to bounce back from Thursday’s home loss to the Portland Trail Blazers, shot just 33 percent from the floor and hit only 10 of 43 3-point shots. The 43 3-point heaves were a new franchise record, breaking the previous mark of 42 set on Feb. 8, 2012.

``(Three-point shooting) is part of the game plan and it’s part of everybody’s game plan in the NBA to shoot a lot of threes and space the floor, but a lot of our threes weren’t necessarily good ones,’’ Magic center Nikola Vucevic said. ``We can’t just shoot any shot and you have to make sure that you work. A lot of the shots we were taking, we can get those shots at any point. We have to make sure that we make the defense work and then you’ll get those shots any way. But a lot of those shots that we took weren’t necessarily the right shots for our team tonight.’’

Orlando got a decent offensive night from Vucevic (16 points and nine rebounds), but the Bucks attacked him defensively and regularly either got the rim or hit 3-point shots.

Evan Fournier, Orlando’s second-leading scorer on the season, struggled through a poor night offensively, making just four of 12 shots and only one of six 3-point shots for 10 points.

Milwaukee, which demolished the dysfunctional Timberwolves in Minnesota a night earlier, needed just 21 points, seven rebounds and one assist from Antetokounmpo in 19 minutes. Middleton (18 points and two threes) continued his torrid shooting, while Brogdon (16 points and two threes), DiVincenzo (15 points) and Brook Lopez (11 points) took turns picking apart the Magic defense.

``We’re getting crushed – two games in a row, here – by the good (not great) players,’’ Clifford said of the damage done by the supporting casts from Portland and Milwaukee. ``I’m not saying that it’s easy, but if we’re not going to be able to guard the good players, then we’re not going to be able to play defense. We’re a contain-the-ball-and-help team, so we can’t be getting crushed by guys who are just good players. They can get by you on the second or third dribble, but that’s not what is happening.’’

Orlando notched its best win of the season earlier in the week by coming out victorious in Boston. However, it hasn’t carried any momentum over from that gritty game, losing to Portland and Milwaukee.

Saturday’s game was the Magic’s first at Fiserv Forum, Milwaukee’s new, state-of-the-art downtown arena. No NBA team was readier to see the 30-year-old BMO Harris Bradley Center go by the wayside than the Magic, who lost 10 of their last 11 games inside that outdated facility that’s in the process of being demolished. However, the results were eerily similar on Saturday in the new 17,500-seat arena situated next door to the Bradley Center.

Following an early-morning arrival back in Central Florida from Milwaukee, the Magic will have Sunday off. Orlando will practice on Monday in preparation for Tuesday’s home game against the Sacramento Kings.

Milwaukee led by 14 after a dominant first half and punished the Magic even more in a lopsided third period. The Bucks pushed their advantage to as much as 26 points just after halftime by holding Orlando to five-of-20 shooting in the third period.

``We’ve got to drive and make plays, especially if my shot isn’t falling,’’ Gordon said of potentially sparking the offense. ``I’ve got to drive and make plays for my teammates and I had a couple of good plays where I drove into the lane and kicked it out. I’ve just got to use my gifts to get into the lane and look for other people. That should open the lane up.’’

Milwaukee came into Saturday’s game at 5-0 for the first time since 1971. Also, the Bucks were one of four teams in the NBA still undefeated prior to Saturday’s slate of games, joining Toronto, Detroit and New Orleans.

The Bucks have been one of the NBA’s hottest teams early in the season by riding the do-everything play of Antetokounmpo and some dead-shooting from afar. Through five games, Milwaukee ranked first in the NBA in 3-pointers made a game (16) and 3-pointers attempted a game (41.8) and 10thin accuracy from 3-point range (38.3 percent). The offseason addition of center Brook Lopez meant that the Bucks can clear the middle of the floor and surround Antetokounmpo with four 3-point shooters.

``What makes it difficult is there’s the Giannis part where if you’re not helping, it’s almost impossible to keep him out of the lane and away from the basket, Clifford said. ``And then, when you help, he’s very unselfish (and passing to 3-point shooters). Then, there’s the pick-and-roll part where the more that they are rolling, the more you have to help (off shooters).’’

Orlando struggled offensively at the start of the game and had little answers defensively throughout a first half where Milwaukee took a 65-51 lead to the locker room. The Bucks gashed the Magic inside and out, shooting 59.5 percent from the floor with five 3-pointers, 16 free throws and 30 points in the paint.

On this night, it was often difficult to tell what bedeviled the Magic more – a defense that was gashed by most of Milwaukee’s players or a sputtering offense that could never string together a series of makes?

``We didn’t do a good job executing our game plan, but it wasn’t all just the game plan; it was simple stuff, like (Clifford) said with the back cuts and the blow-bys,’’ Vucevic said. ``(The Bucks) do a good job of setting things up, but we just weren’t focused enough on that (defensive) end to take care of those things. Against a good team like that, who really executes well, you have to be really focused and we weren’t tonight.

``And with our offense, a lot of it was us taking the shots that they wanted us to take,’’ a frustrated Vucevic continued. ``We didn’t make them work and we took a lot of shots early in the clock. Those are the shots they want us to take. They give you certain looks that you think are good, but those aren’t going to work all game. That was the issue for the offense and on defense the focus wasn’t there.’’

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