De­fense was key to win over Bucks

It took team ef­fort to stymie East­ern Con­fer­ence lead­ers

Orlando Sentinel - - NBA - By Kane Pit­man

MIL­WAU­KEE — Magic coach Steve Clifford said his team’s de­fen­sive ef­fort was the key to a dom­i­nant 103-83 road win over the Bucks Satur­day night.

It was a state­ment game for Or­lando, tak­ing down the first-place East­ern Con­fer­ence team and play­ing well from nearly start to fin­ish.

Clifford was par­tic­u­larly pleased with his team’s abil­ity to close off the Bucks’ op­por­tu­ni­ties in the paint. Mil­wau­kee scored 80 points in the paint against the Dal­las Mav­er­icks just 24 hours ear­lier. The Magic lim­ited the Bucks to 46 Satur­day, hold­ing the team to a miserly 18 in the sec­ond half.

“I thought in the sec­ond half we did a lot bet­ter job just keep­ing the ball out of the paint,” Clifford said.

“They are so good at driv­ing the ball into the paint, I think they had 28 points in the paint in the first half and I don’t know what they ended up with, but we were a lot bet­ter. Our de­fense in the sec­ond half was re­ally good.”

Nikola Vuce­vic, so of­ten charged with pro­tect­ing against the Mil­wau­kee at­tack in the re­stricted area, praised the group’s ef­fort on the de­fen­sive end.

“The way for us to stay in games is with our de­fense,” said Vuce­vic, who chipped in 15 points and 17 re­bounds in ad­di­tion to his de­fen­sive work.

“We aren’t go­ing to go out there and outscor­ing people ev­ery night. I thought we did a re­ally good job pro­tect­ing the paint but also get­ting out to the shoot­ers and fin­ish­ing off pos­ses­sions by re­bound­ing the ball.”

Vuce­vic ac­knowl­edged that the ab­sence of Gian­nis An­te­tok­oun­mpo, who was out with a sore knee, was a ma­jor blow for Mil­wau­kee, but he em­pha­sized the wealth of tal­ent still avail­able on the Mil­wau­kee ros­ter.

“We talked about it, even with Gian­nis out, ob­vi­ously he’s a big part of what they do and the main rea­son why they are so good, but they still have a very good team, some very good play­ers,” Vuce­vic said.

“[Eric] Bled­soe is very good at driv­ing, [Khris] Mid­dle­ton, [Mal­colm] Brog­don and with [Brook] Lopez spac­ing the floor, we knew it wasn’t go­ing to be easy but we com­peted.”

Des­per­ate to avoid a slow start, the Magic were un­able to con­tain the Bucks early, con­ced­ing the first eight points, lead­ing to Clifford call­ing the first time­out just 3:03 into the game.

The first three min­utes pro­vided the only mo­ments of ad­ver­sity for the Magic, who re­sponded sharply and rat­tled off a 14-4 run, capped by a tough D.J. Au­gustin fin­ish through con­tact in tran­si­tion. Fin­ish­ing the pe­riod strong, Or­lando took a 20-19 lead en­ter­ing the sec­ond quar­ter, with six dif­fer­ent play­ers reg­is­ter­ing a point.

When Aaron Gor­don bul­lied his way to the bas­ket for a tough and-one fin­ish, the Magic ex­tended their lead to six points and took the life out of the usu­ally rau­cous Mil­wau­kee crowd.

The Fis­erv Fo­rum re­mained quiet as the sec­ond quar­ter rolled on, with a Khem Birch dunk fol­low­ing up on a Wes­ley Iwundu miss giv­ing the Magic a 34-26 lead with 7:29 left in the sec­ond quar­ter.

The red-hot Ter­rence Ross con­tin­ued his re­cent stretch of strong play, fu­el­ing the Magic of­fense in the sec­ond pe­riod. Back-to-back long-range bombs within 26 sec­onds gave him 13 points at the 5:47 mark of the sec­ond quar­ter.

“He is so con­fi­dent and in rhythm. He is a tal­ented shot-maker who doesn’t need a lot of room,” Clifford said of Ross.

“He is bet­ter off the drib­ble than I re­al­ized. One, two drib­bles, he doesn’t need a lot of space and he el­e­vates over de­fend­ers. He has dif­fer­ent ways to get shots that are good for him.”

Or­lando car­ried a 59-49 lead into the sec­ond half, with its hot shoot­ing in di­rect con­trast to the Bucks, who at times strug­gled to hit the rim from be­yond the arc. Ranked No. 19 in the NBA in 3-point shoot­ing, the Magic went 7-of-11 through two quar­ters while Mil­wau­kee strug­gled to a 3-of-17 mark.

Gor­don opened the sec­ond half with a wide open dunk and, once again, the Magic were able to get sub­due the usu­ally hot Mil­wau­kee, ex­tend­ing their lead to 67-56 with 6:58 left in the third.

The min­utes that fol­lowed were not pretty view­ing, with missed shots and turnovers on both sides of the floor. Mil­wau­kee closed the gap to nine points and was threat­en­ing to surge back into the con­test be­fore back-to-back triples by Iwundu and Jonathan Isaac sud­denly gave the Magic a game-high 15-point lead with 2:45 left in the third.

Isaac fin­ished with 17 points on 3-of-6 shoot­ing from be­yond the arc, shak­ing some early hes­i­ta­tion to shoot with con­fi­dence when the Magic needed him most.

“It’s big. We need every­body to make shots and when he’s able to make them it opens up a lot for us. We want him to shoot the ball. He needs to shoot it with con­fi­dence when he’s open,” Vuce­vic said.

AARON GASH/AP

The Mil­wau­kee Bucks’ Khris Mid­dle­ton drives to the bas­ket as he is guarded by the Magic’s Wes­ley Iwundu dur­ing the Magic’s win Satur­day night in Mil­wau­kee.

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