Advertisement

Magic to keep focus on defense in crucial Game 4 vs. Cavs

The sighs grew louder.

With each of the first six 3-pointers the Magic missed to start Game 3 against the Cavs on Thursday, fans watching inside Kia Center grew impatient.

Those in attendance couldn’t wait any longer for Orlando‘s long-range buckets to fall. And finally, they did.

First it was a left-corner triple from Franz Wagner. Then it was Jalen Suggs from the right wing. The third came from a trailing Paolo Banchero on the left side in transition.

From there, it was off to the races for Orlando in its 38-point victory, and those sighs turned into an eruption of cheers.

“Our fans had that spot rocking,” Magic center Wendell Carter Jr. said after practice Friday. “When you’re at home and you make a big-time 3, you hear everybody screaming.

“It just gives you a little bit more juice.”

Orlando is hoping for more of the same energy at home Saturday when it enters a crucial Game 4 trailing the Cavs 2-1 in the best-of-seven series between the Nos. 4 and 5 seeds in the East.

A win would earn the Magic another home contest for Game 6 next Friday but a loss would put Jamahl Mosley’s squad on the brink of elimination entering Tuesday’s Game 5 at Cleveland.

“Our energy, effort, attitude and our mindset walking into Game 4 has to be similar, if not more, for what we’re going to be able to do,” Mosley said.

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

The Magic didn’t even necessarily shoot the ball that well from beyond the arc. In fact, Orlando nearly matched its season-long average from 3-point range (35.2%) during Game 3 when it shot 13 of 37 (35.1%).

During the regular season, the Magic ranked 24th out of 30 for 3-point percentage but performing near their average was more than enough against the Cavs. That’s because the Magic shot 25.7% from distance in Game 2 after an even worse 21.6% to open the series.

“If shots fall, they do. If they don’t, we’ve got to continue to stick with the process of what we’re doing,” Mosley said.

What Orlando has done so far is defend at a high level.

The Cavs have yet to crack the century mark in scoring, were limited to 39% from the field in Game 3 and let Orlando total 19 points off 14 Cleveland turnovers on Thursday.

“We’re just continuing to hang our hats on the defensive end,” Mosley said. “Continuing to read the game is going to be a key throughout the series.”

Adjustments will be key, too.

Mosley made a major one in Game 3 when he moved Carter back into the starting group after opening with Jonathan Isaac alongside Wagner, Banchero, Suggs and Gary Harris in the first two meetings.

Carter did a lot of the dirty work when he helped box out Cleveland’s Jarrett Allen and that opened up more second-chance opportunities for the Magic. Orlando outscored the Cavs 22-9 in that area.

“That’s the special thing about this team: We have so many interchangeable players and guys understand that we all support each other,” point guard guard Markelle Fultz said. “We all just want to win. So whatever lineup that Coach is comfortable putting out there, we all believe in it.

“With Wendell and his defensive energy to keep Jarrett Allen off the glass, that really helped us and then being able to have JI come in when he went out. … It’s just a crazy one-two punch whether it’s JI starting or Wendell.”

The Magic know Cleveland is bound to make its own adjustments on Saturday — the same way Orlando did in Game 3.

Countering those changes and preparing for different possibilities is what makes the playoffs a match of chess and not checkers.

“That’s the beauty of the game,” Mosley said.

Added Carter: “As long as we throw the first punch, we’ll be successful.”

Jason Beede can be reached at jbeede@orlandosentinel.com

If you go …

Magic vs. Cavaliers, Game 4

When: Saturday at Kia Center, 1

How to watch: Bally Sports Florida, TNT