The Milwaukee Bucks are firmly in command of the series, and Game 5 will decide whether or not they move on to the second round, or if they need to play any more games against the Orlando Magic. With the Magic facing elimination, we went back to Mike Cali of Orlando Pinstriped Post to get some answers; we provided some of our own that you can check out here.
Q: The Magic are behind 3-1, but they’ve played this series closer than many Bucks fans would have expected. What’s the secret?
I’m not sure I’d call it a secret because, for the Magic, it pretty much comes down to the most basic principle of basketball: making shots. When the Magic are hitting their outside shots, they’ve shown they are capable of beating any team in the league. Problem is they are extremely inconsistent, even when they are at full strength and not missing half of their rotation as they are now. That trend continued in this series if you look at the games in which they were competitive (Game 1= 39% from three; Game 4 = 40% percent from three) and the games in which they were not (Game 2 = 21% from three; Game 3 = 23.5% from three in the first half while the Bucks built a 30-point lead). The Magic typically go as far as their defense takes them. They generally protect the ball well (not always the case in this series) and don’t take chances on the offensive glass so they can quickly get set in their half-court defense, which combine to limit fast break points. They’ve done a good job containing the Bucks in that category, holding them to 9.8 fast break points per, well below their season average of 18.0. But like pretty much every other team, they have no answer for Giannis in the paint.
Q: Aaron Gordon has not been available for this series through the first four games. Did his absence make Orlando worse, or did it clarify their gameplan for the Bucks?
Gordon certainly would have been useful, particularly on the defensive end, where he’s a very athletic defender who can easily switch and guard multiple positions. Truth is, the Magic have been without some key defensive pieces in this series with Gordon (who probably would have covered Middleton), Jonathan Isaac (who would have covered Giannis), Mo Bamba (who would have provided some much-needed rim protection) and Michael Carter-Williams (who became a very valuable reserve for the Magic this season, which may sound comical to Bucks fans who got a nightly look at his limitations early in his career). Offensively, however, against a team like the Bucks that packs the paint, having a more consistent outside threat like Gary Clark in the lineup over Gordon may have actually been beneficial for the Magic. Gordon regressed drastically with his three-point shot this season (30%), and he has a tendency to be a ball-stopper for a Magic team that depends on constant ball movement (though AG was emerging as quite the playmaker just prior to the NBA hiatus). The fact that Nikola Vucevic is thriving this series alongside Clark instead of AG may not be a coincidence. But overall, it’s more beneficial for the Magic to have Aaron Gordon available than to not.
Q: Khris Middleton has gotten a lot of (negative) attention from the Milwaukee side of things, but doesn’t James Ennis III deserve some positive attention for his work making Khris’ life miserable?
It just so happens that when Khris Middleton busted out of his series-long shooting slump during the fourth quarter of Game 4, James Ennis was sitting on the bench watching it happen. Not sure what Steve Clifford was thinking making Ennis a spectator, and putting Evan Fournier on Middleton, for such a long and crucial stretch when Ennis has done a solid job locking up Middleton all series. Ennis can be a physical and pesky defender, and he kept Middleton out of sync through three games and three quarters by fighting through screens and movement to give Middleton as little daylight as possible. At the same time, throughout the series, Middleton simply missed a lot of shots that he typically makes and it was probably only a matter of time before they started to drop, regardless of who was covering him. Through the first three games when Middleton was considered open (closest defender four to six feet away) he shot just 41.2 percent, down from 51.3% in the regular season. On shots when he was wide open (closest defender six feet or more away), he shot 33.3%, down from 48.7% in the regular season. Small sample size of course, but he was missing some good looks. That, of course, changed in the fourth quarter of Game 4.
Q: What else could Nikola Vucevic have possibly done in this series to change the balance?
Umm…Maybe shapeshifted into Dikembe Mutombo on the defensive end? It would be great if Vucevic could provide more rim protection to make Giannis think twice about attacking the basket, but that’s never been a strength of his. Vooch is averaging nearly 30 points a game and shooting over 50 percent from the field in this series, so not sure we can ask much more of him. He’s been incredible.
Q: What’s next for the Magic? Is there hope for coming back from a 3-1 deficit, or is it time to look ahead to the offseason?
I think most Orlando fans would have been satisfied with the season if the Magic managed to have a competitive first round series. It would have been great to steal Game 4, and the Magic put themselves in position to do so heading into the fourth. Maybe they still find a way to upset the Bucks in Game 5 and give the organization and fanbase the excitement of a Game 6 that they haven’t experienced since Dwight Howard was in a Magic uniform. But we are a realistic bunch and are not anticipating three consecutive wins over the Bucks. So, we’ll continue to hope for the best, focus on the play of Markelle Fultz until this series is over, and then look to the offseason, which is probably going to be very quiet for a financially-strapped Magic team.
Thanks again to Mike and Orlando Pinstriped Post for taking the time. Check out their community and hopefully we can keep this going as the Bucks proceed further into the playoffs!