You won’t see the Orlando Magic play a better half of basketball — and you might not ever again — than the second half of their 117-92 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday night.
After a lackluster first half where the Magic shot 35 percent and turned it over nine turnovers, the Magic trailed by eight to the young Bucks.
What followed was absolutely ridiculous. The Magic made 29-of-37 (78 percent) field goals in the second half and sunk 9-of-12 (75 percent) from 3-point range. They scored 76 points — after scoring 41 in the first half — on 44 possessions. That’s a 172.7 offensive rating. 15 of their 29 field goals were assisted. In case those stats are difficult to process in paragraph form, here they are in chart form:
Meanwhile, Orlando’s defense stiffened as well. The Bucks were held to 33 percent shooting in the third and fourth quarters, and they turned the ball over nine times.
Incredibly high expectations were placed upon the Magic going into this season, those expectations were realized in the second half of tonight’s game. When this team is on, they are absolutely, unmercifully, utterly unstoppable.
There hadn’t been a time this season where the Magic locked, loaded and blew a team away in a short period of time (and I know that’s weird to say about a 23-8 team; what was that about expectations?). We knew, with so many weapons and so much depth, this team was capable of dominance. But we’d yet to see this team completely establish their supremacy at any point this year.
That is, until midway through the third quarter of tonight’s game. With the Bucks ahead 67-60, Vince Carter came up slow after being fouled by the Bucks’ Ersan Ilyasova. The Magic called a timeout during the stoppage in play. The team then responded with a 13-0 run, benefitting from a couple of 3s from Jason Williams, and took control of a game where an inferior team was hanging around. The Magic finished the game on a 57-25 run from that point. Carter and Williams combined to kickstart the run.
Carter scored 15 points on 7-of-9 shooting in the third quarter, and Williams went 5-for-5 from 3-point range in the second half. Dwight Howard helped, as well, playing a super-efficient game against a team that couldn’t handle him; he made 8-of-11 shots and scored 17 points on 14 possessions. There were two significant lineup changes, and I’ll get to those now.
Matt Barnes started in place of Mickael Pietrus. Stan Van Gundy, in an effort to improve his team’s performance at the beginning of games, inserted Barnes into the starting lineup instead of Pietrus. The effect was minimal, and the move became moot when Howard picked up two quick fouls and threw the rotation off in the first quarter. But I think we’ll continue to see Barnes in the starting lineup for the foreseeable future. Additionally, if Bass is going to play significant minutes as a reserve, then it’s best that Pietrus play with the second-unit guys. Barnes and Bass have not played well when together on the floor this season, as two of the team’s worst three five-man units feature both Barnes and Bass. It’s not difficult to understand why, in my opinion — neither player shoots the 3-pointer very well (Barnes is shooting 20 percent, and once you reach New Years it’s no longer classified as a slump), and both are players who like to fill the lane and bring energy in the paint.
Brandon Bass played. Ryan Anderson did not. It’s likely that a lot of people will read more into this move than what is really there. Hakim Warrick killed Orlando last time these teams played, scoring 16 points in 22 minutes. Warrick’s blend of quickness and strength is too much for Anderson, so Van Gundy turned to the other bullet in his holster: Brandon Bass. I know Anderson has a following, and I’m sure there will be people upset he didn’t play. But isn’t the ability to play two power forwards, depending on the matchup, an undeniable luxury? Most teams would love to have one dependable backup power forward; the Magic have two, and both are players that could start elsewhere in the league. I’m surprised Anderson didn’t see the floor at all — especially in the second half when the game got out of hand — but I really wouldn’t read a whole lot into it after one game. “He’s been playing very well,” Van Gundy said of Anderson. “He had two good days of practice, as did Brandon. I knew going in, in my mind, that I was going to play Brandon against Warrick. If he didn’t play Warrick very much then I would have played Ryan. But Warrick had given us a lot of problems with his quickness the last game, and I thought Brandon was our best matchup on him.