May 25, 2024

Magic moments add up to dramatic win as Orlando gets ready for Game 7 in Cleveland


ORLANDO, Fla. — Orlando Magic players know what awaits them Sunday afternoon in Game 7.

To keep their storybook season alive, they’ll need to win in a place that has bedeviled them in these playoffs. Raucous fans will jam Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse and yell themselves hoarse. If that’s not daunting enough, Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland will attack.

“We expect it to be all that and more,” guard Cole Anthony said late Friday night, a gigantic smile on his face. “All that and more. Look, we ready. We’re ready for the challenge.”

What Anthony and his teammates accomplished Friday night gave them reason to believe. Facing elimination and enduring a relentless performance by Mitchell in Game 6, the Magic roared back from an early fourth-quarter deficit and defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers 103-96 at Kia Center.

Everyone in the Orlando playing rotation made an impact, from stars Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner to defensive aces Jalen Suggs and Jonathan Isaac to physical center Wendell Carter Jr. and the two reserve guards, Markelle Fultz and Anthony.

This Magic team does have its weaknesses, as almost all young teams do, but as it proved again Friday night, its intangibles are off-the-charts good.

“Every moment that we’ve had our backs against the wall, we’ve responded,” Isaac said. “Every single time.”

So far, this series has proved Isaac’s point. Trailing 2-0 after a pair of losses in Cleveland, the Magic won the next two games at home. After a crushing defeat in Game 5, they recovered in Game 6 despite Mitchell torching them with 50 points.

Shooting remains the Magic’s biggest shortcoming, but they finally hit shots when they needed them most. A trey by Suggs with 4 minutes, 21 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter broke an 86-86 tie. On Orlando’s next trip down the floor, Banchero drained a pull-up 3 from the left wing over Evan Mobley.

Anthony delivered the biggest blow. With Orlando clinging to a 94-91 lead, Wagner missed a 3-pointer. Anthony swooped in from the right corner untouched and, in one continuous motion, collected the rebound and scored on a putback layup.

“I thought Cole won us the game today,” Wagner said. “He had huge minutes off the bench, making plays on both sides, and that’s what it takes to be successful in the playoffs.”

That’s only half the story. During the first five games of the series, Anthony was borderline unplayable, going 6 of 26 from the field and 1 of 10 from beyond the arc. An emotional player and one of the most vivacious people on the roster, he put enormous pressure on himself, and in the process, probably only made his struggles worse.

Still, coach Jamahl Mosley played a hunch down the stretch Friday. With starting shooting guard Gary Harris out with a hamstring injury, Mosley rolled with Anthony for almost the entire fourth quarter.

“I’ve lost a lot of trust with my lack of (quality) play this season,” Anthony said. “It’s been a tough year. But, look, at the end of the day, I’m just here to try and help this team win. That’s the cure-all for everything is a ‘dub.’ And we got a ‘dub’ tonight. Magical.”

Suggs and Anthony embraced after the final buzzer.

“I love C.A. so much, and he cares so much about all of us and about performing well for all of us,” Suggs said. “A very unselfish human being, and he puts a lot of pressure on himself. … I am so happy for him. I wouldn’t want anybody else making those plays. Hugging after the game, he’s just got a special aura and energy, and I just want him to continue to use it and let it shine.”

Banchero, Suggs and Wagner had big games, combining to score 75 of Orlando’s 103 points. Carter and Isaac helped limit Cleveland to only two second-chance points. And Fultz came off the bench to record a six-point, four-assist night while he also played solid defense.

Orlando played like the more desperate team, corralling most of the loose balls.

But the biggest stretch of the game — the moment the Magic may have come of age — occurred early in the second half. Paced by Mitchell’s brilliance, the Cavs opened the third quarter on a 17-4 run to take a nine-point lead.

The Magic could have crumbled.

Instead, they fought back. Fultz scored on a layup. On Orlando’s next two possessions, Banchero and Suggs sank 3s, and suddenly, the Magic had cut their deficit to one measly point, sending the sellout crowd into a frenzy.

“I thought we just did a great job — everybody, all 15 guys — sticking together,” Banchero said. “There was a lot of communication every timeout, every huddle. Yeah, it was just a special moment, just everybody being engaged in the game like that and just lifting each other up.”

What the Magic have not proved yet is that they can win a playoff game in Cleveland. In their first three postseason games there, they made only 38 percent of their shot attempts, 25 percent of their 3-point tries and 71 percent of their free throws.

On Sunday afternoon, they’ll have to hit shots during the inevitable moments when Mitchell, Garland and the rest of the Cavaliers seize momentum.

“I can’t wait to go out there and play in Cleveland, a hostile environment, one where we haven’t won one yet, where all the odds are stacked against us,” Suggs said. “It’s just everybody here on this roster, everybody on our bench, a couple family behind the bench against an entire city. And I don’t think none of us want it any other way.”

Less than one hour after Game 6 ended, Banchero fielded a question about Game 7.

What, exactly, will the Magic need to do?

“It’s a do-or-die situation,” Banchero said. “So we’re going to have to put together another special effort.”

Isaac put it best. How can he and his teammates breakthrough in Cleveland?

“Just be us,” he said.

As Friday night showed, being who they are may be all the Magic need.

(Photo of Cole Anthony: Mike Watters / USA Today)





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