Orlando’s Best Shot Not Enough to Hold Off the Wizards’ Comeback
When the Wizards found themselves down 11 to the lowly Orlando Magic entering the fourth quarter, a universe where the post-game locker room vibe was supplemented with Wizards players smiling from ear-to-ear as Migos blasted in the background seemed alternate, at best. Eight Bojan Bogdonavic 3-pointers later, Washington successfully completed its 11th double-digit comeback of the season.
Washington needed nearly every second of the 48 minutes of game action to compete with an Orlando Magic team that has given them problems this season. It would have been an extremely hard pill to swallow for the Wizards to lose the season series 3-1 to a team that is 15 games below .500, especially considering the fact that head coach Scott Brooks emphasized pre-game how important it was to protect home court in lieu of the looming, grueling stretch of five games in eight days.
The Wizards were able to complete the comeback because their marquee trade deadline acquisition caught fire in the fourth quarter. Brooks was complimentary of not only Bojan Bogdanovic’s skills, but also Team President for Life Ernie Grunfeld’s acumen in picking him up. “Like I said many times, Ernie [Grunfeld] did a great job picking us up a really good player that can play,” Brooks said. “He has great experience, he knows how to play, he takes big shots and he makes big shots.”
This was the Magic’s first time seeing Bojan as a Wizard, and Magic head coach Frank Vogel admitted that his team stuck to their defensive strategy for the most part, but just weren’t able to get to the shooters: “They put four 3-point shooters out around one of the best point guards in the world. We got switches, which they’re supposed to do and he still got points racing down the lane. We over-helped a little bit, not a lot, and weren’t able to get to the shooters.”
That is the beauty of having one of the most dynamic leading guards in the league. Wall has the ability to break down a defense with his penetration and find any open shooters. Having a more than capable shooter like Bojan to knock down those shots adds a different dynamic.
The Wizards comeback is the lead story, but getting down by as much as 17 to the Magic is noteworthy. Scott Brooks was not happy with the way that the Wizards defended: “Our defense was really good for one possession tonight, and that was it. Our defense has to get better, and we’ve been talking about this the last couple of games.” The lapse in defensive effort was evident in the first half as the Wizards seemed to be constantly a step behind on closing out 3-pointers. Orlando came into the game shooting 32.8 percent from behind the arc, but started the first half shooting a blazing 10-for-20 from deep. Washington did a much better job of driving the Magic off of the 3-point line in the second half, holding them to just four makes in 15 attempts.
Just as it was the Magic’s first time seeing Bojan, it was the Wizards first time seeing swingman Terrence Ross in a Magic uniform. Ross scored 20 points on 8-for-18 shooting, impressing Vogel with his big shot making: “It was really encouraging. He did, he made some big, big shots—some guarded shots—and we need another guy that can do that.” The other guy that was doing that in the first half was Mario Hezonja, who went 3-for-3 from 3 and poured in 10 points off of the bench. The second half was much different for him. Hezonja was only able to score two points after halftime and missed on both of his 3-point attempts.
Part of the Wizards solution in keeping Hezonja in check was to put a familiar face on him in the fourth quarter. Give much credit to Scott Brooks for constantly switching up his rotations in search of a winning combination. On Sunday evening, it was Tomas Satoransky who was called upon to give the team a jolt of energy. Satoransky was thrust into the lineup to play small forward and he was more than able to hold his own on the court.
Sato finished with a game high plus/minus of plus-15 in just seven minutes of game action. He was a part of a five-man unit, along with Brandon Jennings, Bradley Beal, Bojan and Ian Mahinmi that went on a 15-6 stretch to start the fourth quarter to get the team back in the game. The success of this unit was flexibility in having four capable ball-handlers (who are also willing passers) with Mahinmi setting screens and protecting the rim. Satoransky and Jennings on the court together is easily a better passing combination than Trey Burke and Kelly Oubre. This provides the second unit the much needed ball movement that has hindered the bench production all season long. Jennings finished with seven assists and developed a nice chemistry with Bojan by completing a few passes that allowed him to be in perfect position for the catch-and-shoot. Five of Jennings’ seven assists were to Bogey, and four of those were 3-pointers.
Yes, Brandon Jennings is being implored by his new coach and teammates to shoot the ball more, but his passing skills alone may have been the upgrade that this second unit has needed. One of the main reasons Trey Burke has drawn the ire of Wizards faithful was due to his inability to get the ball moving from sideline to sideline. Jennings’ scoring will eventually come as his comfort level in the system grows, but his top-notch passing skills are a much needed breath of fresh air.
Coach Vogel and Coach Brooks were playing a game of cat and mouse with their lineup decisions. Vogel was limited with his rotation because of Nikola Vucevic’s late scratch due to a sore right Achilles’, so he was forced to play smaller lineups with Aaron Gordon at center. The Magic went on a 10-0 run with that small lineup after Biyombo picked up his fourth personal foul and a technical early in the fourth quarter. Brooks elected to let Mahinmi play the majority of the fourth quarter minutes and he did an amazing job of not only moving his feet when switched on to smaller players, but also hustling to get back into position to protect the rim. Mahinmi earned the praise of Wall who noted how Mahinmi talking on the defensive end is helping the team.
When Vogel inserted Biyombo back into the lineup, Brooks once again switched it up by going small and putting Markieff Morris into the game instead of Marcin Gortat, despite the fact Keef did not bring his best effort on the glass. Keef finished with just two rebounds on the game, and they both came in the closing minutes. Throughout the game Orlando pounded the Wizards on the boards, including 13 offensive rebounds that led to the Magic outscoring the Wizards 26-to-9 on second chance points.
There were ample opportunities for the Magic to close out a Wizards team that did not bring their best effort, but the Wizards seemed to respond to every momentum-shifting play. When Evan Fournier put the Magic back up by two after yet another after timeout (ATO) play call by Brooks, in which he put the ball in John Wall’s hands and told him to simply read the defense, it seemed as if the comeback would fall just short—as it did Friday night against the Raptors. But the Wizards found Bogey again. This time it was Wall driving and dishing to an open Otto Porter, who skipped it to the hot hand, after which Bogdanovic promptly found the bottom of the net for his eighth and final 3. Orlando would still have two more opportunities to take the lead, but were thwarted by a great defensive effort by John Wall who was sturdy in holding his ground when switched onto the Magic’s Aaron Gordon in the post for what Brooks called the team’s only good defensive possession of the game.
Gordon would have one last opportunity to be the hero as he advanced the ball into the front court like a runaway locomotive en route to the basket for the potential game-winning shot. When asked if he liked his look at the end, Gordon acknowledged what he did wrong: “Got to be more aggressive. It was going away from he basket. I tried to draw contact and get a foul. They’re not going to give me a foul at the end of the game like that.”
In the end, all Frank Vogel could do is express his disappointment for his team after their strong start:
“Yeah I was disappointed. I’m disappointed for our guys. We really competed. I thought we had a great focus, great effort, and intensity tonight. Disappointed we fell short.”
He was right. The Magic were great in a lot of areas that were conducive to winning basketball, but the Wizards showed great resolve and even flashed some potentially great depth, a marked improvement from where this team stood just a few weeks ago.