May 25, 2024

Friday’s NBA playoffs takeaways: Magic switch up lineup, keep season alive vs. Cavaliers


The Orlando Magic forced a Game 7 against the Cleveland Cavaliers with a 103-96 win on Friday night, protecting home court and keeping their season alive thanks to three starters scoring over 20 points.

Each of Orlando’s combined efforts were much needed to overcome the 50-point game Cleveland received from Donovan Mitchell. Only one other Cavalier scored more than 10 points.

The winner of Sunday’s Game 7 will advance to face the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Magic 103, Cavaliers 96

Series: 3-3

Magic supersize their lineup

With Gary Harris out, Magic coach Jamahl Mosley elected in Game 6 to start the same big lineup that he employed to finish Game 5: Jalen Suggs, Franz Wagner, Jonathan Isaac, Paolo Banchero and Wendell Carter Jr.

Everyone except for Suggs is at least 6-foot-10.

Why did Mosley choose that group? It put his two best defenders, Suggs and Isaac, on the floor simultaneously. It also kept the Magic’s usual second unit of Cole Anthony, Markelle Fultz, Joe Ingles, Isaac and Mo Wagner intact (because Isaac was subbed out midway through the first quarter and subbed back in to begin the second quarter). And it also enabled Mosley not to rely on rookie Anthony Black or second-year swingman Caleb Houstan, who, while promising youngsters, haven’t played meaningful minutes in weeks.

Did it work? It was probably a mixed bag. Although Orlando “won” the first quarter for the first time all series, outscoring Cleveland 29-25, the same starting lineup was on the floor to open the third quarter when Cleveland opened with a 13-2 run.

Defensively, the super tall lineup almost certainly had a factor in holding the Cavs to 7-of-28 shooting from 3-point range. But the Cavs also outscored the Magic 66-38 points in the paint.

Mosley made a significant adjustment down the stretch in the fourth quarter, going with Anthony instead of Isaac for the vast majority of the time. Anthony, who had been slumping this series, played a big role, securing an offensive rebound and following immediately with a layup to extend Orlando’s lead to 96-91.

The ability to adjust on the fly is one of Mosley’s biggest strengths.

On Friday, it paid off big time.

As Game 7 approaches Sunday, it’s certain Mosley will continue to trust his gut and adjust on the fly if needed.

It’s gotten his team this far.

The Magic are one victory away from reaching the second round. — Josh Robbins, senior NBA writer

Cavaliers’ non-Lebron playoff drought lives on

The Cavaliers still haven’t won a playoff series since 1993 without LeBron James wearing their jersey.

They came darned close Friday night, and Mitchell did his best LeBron impression — 50 points on 36 shots in 42 minutes. It would have been a signature performance of Mitchell’s career, regardless of team, had Cleveland won Game 6 and therefore the series. The number of players coach J.B. Bickerstaff can trust is dwindling with each passing game, and a hint of fatigue seemed to overcome the Cavs in the waning moments — Mitchell’s turnover with 56 seconds left, out of a timeout, with Cleveland trailing 98-93 a prime example. The turnover was one of eight for Cleveland in the fourth quarter.

Mitchell and Darius Garland (21 points in 43 minutes) both played the entire fourth quarter and most of the second half. Caris LeVert, meanwhile, didn’t play at all after halftime. It’s not a criticism; Bickerstaff had one game he had to win, had a five-point lead heading into the fourth quarter, and went with the players he felt could bring it home. Mitchell scored all 18 of the Cavs’ points in the final frame.

In your wildest dreams you wouldn’t have imagined Marcus Morris Sr. not only on the floor in crunch time — but at the start of the game, too. With Jarrett Allen again unable to play because of a rib injury, Bickerstaff countered with Morris instead of Isaac Okoro, who started in that spot in Game 5. The idea was likely to mitigate some of Orlando’s size, but the extra spacing Cleveland enjoyed in Game 5 was not there Friday.

Morris finished with 2 points on 1-of-7 shooting. Evan Mobley, long labeled the future of the franchise, had 3 points and 7 rebounds.

Overall, the Cavs couldn’t make a 3. They shoot any better than the 7-of-28 they turned in for Game 6, and it probably would have been on to Boston. Then again, Cleveland enjoyed an unbelievable 66-38 advantage in paint scoring, despite the size disadvantage.

After the game, Mitchell and Bickerstaff pointed out the stark free throw discrepancy in Game 6, as Orlando shot 26 times at the line compared to Cleveland’s 10. Mitchell made clear it wasn’t the only reason they lost, but he said to score 66 points in the paint and get 10 free throws is “crazy.”

Game 7, phew boy, will be on us quickly. There is so much at stake for the Cavs and the individuals inside that locker room. Futures are on the line. They’ll have to sleep on that notion, as well as this: Mitchell played like the best version of himself, and it wasn’t enough in a closeout game.

It’s a heavy thought. — Joe Vardon, senior NBA writer

Required reading

(Photo: Fernando Medina / NBAE via Getty Images)





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