ORLANDO - With just a little over three minutes remaining in the game and his team trailing by two, Mo Bamba walked over to the scorer’s table to get set to check in. Whom he was going to replace is unclear, but really it doesn’t matter.
As he waited for the next dead ball, it became obvious to the 7-foot center that the lineup that was on the floor was going to give his team the best chance to win. That group, featuring Cole Anthony, R.J. Hampton, Gary Harris, Franz Wagner, and Wendell Carter Jr., were in a good rhythm. The crowd was electric. Their opponent, the Utah Jazz, looked out of sorts.
After Rudy Gobert was fouled with 2:39 left, thus enabling Bamba to enter, the Magic’s 23-year-old shared his observations with his head coach, Jamahl Mosley.
“We talk about family all the time with this team, and the togetherness and the empowerment of each other, and wanting to build your teammate up,” Mosley said after the game. “Mo regularly in the rotation coming in at that moment of the game and we were going to finish that way. And he said: ‘Coach, this group is going. They are doing a great job. I’m good.’”
Mosley, with little time to react, decided to use Bamba’s intuition and roll with the five that had helped Orlando erase a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit.
What ensued was an 11-2 Magic run to end the game.
“That’s what this thing is about,” Mosley said. “Empowering your teammate and trusting your teammates that are on the floor, knowing they got it going. For Mo, that was big time.”
Despite having to come from behind late, the Magic outplayed the Jazz most of the night. Hot early, Orlando jumped out to a double-digit lead in the first quarter. Although Utah would seize momentum and build a lead as big as 13 in the third, the Magic never lost confidence nor did their energy or spirit slip at any point.
Just as it’s been over the last several games, the Magic were locked in defensively. They held the Jazz, normally a potent offensive team, to 38.2 percent shooting overall and 19 percent from 3-point range.
Nearly every time down the floor, the Jazz had little room to operate. The Magic’s ball pressure was a big factor.
But their offense, which had been somewhat stagnant in the first two games of this five-game homestand, came alive in crunch time. Cole Anthony scored 10 of his season-high 33 points in the fourth quarter, while Hampton buried three shots in the final three minutes, including a 3-point dagger with 21.5 seconds left after a mad scramble for a loose ball.
“I think that’s kind of what we live for as players, having the crowd into the game,” Hampton said about that clutch shot. “I was actually looking at my little brother in the stands. I was pointing at him. He says I don’t make enough threes. So, I definitely shot that one for him.”
Also, the “bell plays” were key. In fact, that possession that ended with Hampton making that three was like one mega “bell play.” Anthony dove on the floor after Royce O’Neale poked the ball away from him to keep the possession alive, and then Harris wrestled the ball away from Bojan Bogdanovic before whipping the pass out to Hampton for the triple.
For those unfamiliar, “bell plays” are the hustle plays like drawing charges, blocking shots, deflecting passes and diving on the floor for loose balls. In practice, a blue bell affixed to a corner wall of the practice gym at Amway Center gets rung whenever a player does any of those types of things.
“We just had some dudes who came ready to play, especially that fourth quarter,” Anthony said. “We just really made some big hustle plays. R.J., Gary, ‘Dell, Chuma (Okeke), Franz, everybody at some point who played in that fourth quarter...It was just maximum effort and (we) just kind of left it all on the floor. So just big shoutout to the team and it helped us get the dub.”