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Magic blossom. Now, we’ve got a series | Commentary

The Orlando Magic are a young team.

With an old soul.

Their character, wisdom, heart and poise belies their age.

This uncommon maturity — along with a loud, proud home crowd at Kia Center — is why I believe the Magic got up off the deck after two horrid offensive performances in Games 1 and 2 in their playoff series with Cleveland and blew the Cavaliers off the court, 121-83, on Thursday night.

The Magic annihilated them offensively.

Dominated them defensively.

Beat them by 38.

Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve got ourselves a series.

Make no mistake about it, the home crowd was a major factor in the Magic’s third most-lopsided playoff victory in team history. As former Sentinel Magic beat writer Josh Robbins, who is covering the series for The Athletic, tweeted after Game 2: “The Cleveland crowds in Game 1 and Game 2 for the Magic-Cavs series were fantastic — some of the loudest fans I’ve heard in 15 years covering the league. … Will Orlando’s fans match or exceed them in their impact?”

I think we got the answer Thursday night when the Magic won their first home playoff game in 13 years. There’s no question, Magic fans — much like their team — are growing up quickly and gaining respect around the league.

I’ve always credited the Magic marketing department with being able to draw a decent crowd to Kia Center even during the many down years for the last decade. But, honestly, many of those crowds were comprised of fans rooting for the opposing teams who showed up to see the Lakers or Heat or Knicks or whatever superstar was coming to town to torch the Magic.

Now, Kia Center is filled up with Magic fans who are there to cheer their own young stars — Paolo Banchero (31 points), Jalen Suggs (24 points) Franz Wagner (16 points) and all the rest. It’s not just coincidence that the Magic are now 30-11 here during this breakout season.

But, honestly, I believe the Magic would have won this game wherever it was played because this team, even though it has the fifth youngest roster in the league, plays like a bunch of grizzled veterans. They keep their composure. They don’t panic. They believe in themselves.

It would have been very easy for this inexperienced Magic team, after what happened to them in Cleveland, to get swept right out of the playoffs. Many young teams would have folded, but the old souls kept their cool. These fuzzy-cheeked players compete like they are battle-hardened warriors of the postseason; as if they are competing in their umpteenth playoff series instead of their first.

Even when they were shooting worse than any team in the playoffs during Games 1 and 2, they just shrugged it off. The Magic hit only 8 of 37 treys (21.6%) in Game 1 and made only 9 of 35 (25.7%) in Game 2. And it’s not like these shots were contested shots; they were wide-open shots. In Games 1 and 2, they made a league-worst 11 of 44 (25%) from 3-point range when the closest defender was 6-plus feet away.

Then in Game 3 they missed their first five 3-point shots and made only 1 of their first 7 and you could sense the crowd getting a little nervous. And, still, their confidence never teetered. They never flinched.

“The process is so good and we haven’t wavered,” Suggs said. “Nobody has batted an eye, no matter the runs they go on, the injuries that happen, the tough calls, anything that alters is a bit of adversity. No one has batted an eye at it. I’m so proud of everyone for that. You can live at peace when results aren’t going your way if you are going about your business like that. Doing things the right way, handling it the right way, being detailed in our work. Sometimes the results don’t always go your way, that’s life.”

Finally, something clicked midway through the first quarter and — hallelujah! — the shots finally started falling. Banchero hit two treys, Wagner hit another and Cole Anthony, who didn’t make a field goal in the first two games, closed out the first 12 minutes with a 3-point bomb. The Magic led 31-21 and Kia Center was rocking. By the time the final buzzer sounded, the Magic had hit 51% of their total shots and 35% of their treys.

The Magic did everything they didn’t do in the first two games. They attacked the boards and outrebounded the Cavs by 19. They kept Cavaliers star Donovan Mitchell from getting off to a fast start (he scored only two points in the first quarter). And, mainly, they started hitting their shots.

Who knows why the Magic heated up. Maybe it was the crowd. Maybe they got inspired by watching the in-state rival Miami Heat hit a franchise-playoff high 23 3s in a massive road upset of the top-seeded Boston Celtics on Wednesday night. Or, more likely, maybe it was just time.

I don’t know what it was, but I’m certainly not surprised the Magic rose up on Thursday. This team has shocked us all season long with their unflappable poise and resilience. The critics keep expecting them to crumble, but they never do.

In an era where ego often reigns supreme and diva-like behavior is the norm, this team is an aberration. Even when their shots aren’t falling, they continue to play the hounding, harassing defense that many young teams won’t commit to. They are humble and hard-working and seem to understand that true success is measured not by personal statistics but by the collective achievements of the team.

This attitude perhaps best exemplified by their star, Banchero, who is the youngest player in NBA history to ever lead his team in the three major statistical categories — scoring, rebounding and assists. Banchero committed 15 turnovers in the first two games and swore he was going to clean up his act. He did that and then some, scoring 31 points and pulling down 14 rebounds. And committing zero turnovers.

At 21 years, 165 days old, Banchero became the second-youngest player in NBA history to begin his career with three playoff games of 20 points or more. Only LeBron James himself did it at a younger age.

See what I mean?

Young star.

Old soul.

In a world where youth is often equated with immaturity and naiveté, this Magic team is showing that composure, poise and wisdom doesn’t have an age restriction.

Email me at mbianchi@orlandosentinel.com. Hit me up on X (formerly Twitter) @BianchiWrites and listen to my Open Mike radio show every weekday from 6 to 9:30 a.m. on FM 96.9, AM 740 and 969TheGame.com/listen