By Arnie Leshin
Can you believe in magic? Doesn’t matter, for that’s what it was Tuesday afternoon when the 8th-seeded Orlando Magic turned in the biggest upset of the National Basketball Association’s day two of the restarted shortened season playoffs by stunning the Eastern Division champion Milwaukee Bucks, 122-110.
Losers four-straight times to Milwaukee in the regular season, it was a stellar effort for the upset-minded Magic who finished 23 games behind the Bucks. To achieve this sixth eight-over-one reversal in the playoffs, Orlando had to do several things, mainly toss in open 3s, battle for rebounds, and display a transition defense. They accomplished all three.
It set the tone by leading 33-23 after one quarter at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. It was up 62-52 at halftime in a stout defensive effort led the inside play of 6-foot-11 Nikola Vucevik, who bought down 13 rebounds and scored the game-high 35 points. Terrance Ross, a 6-6 guard, added 18 points as the Magic had six players in double figures, while 6-5 Markelle Fultz handed out six assists.
For Milwaukee, it was the usual standout game of 6-11 All-Star (and probable MVP) Gianna Antetokoumpo as he had his team-high 29 points, took down 17 rebounds and dished off seven assists. George Hill, a 6-3 veteran guard, contributed 16 points and five assists.
Orlando did not let down. No matter how frustrating it was for the Bucks, the Magic just continued to hit on open 3s, held its own underneath, and never let Milwaukee within double digits. Orlando held a 48-47 advantage on the boards and in assists 29-27. It made only 16-of-41 3s, but made the key ones every time. Milwaukee was good for 13-of-39 3s. But, in reality, it was the composed Magic team that brought this surprise.
And not too long after, the Western Conference’s 8th-seeded soaring Portland Trailblazers did the same by turning in a splendid 100-93 win over the playoff top-seeded Los Angeles Lakers. While the Lakers, who handed the Blazers four-straight defeats during the regular season, got the usual one-two punch from LeBron James and Anthony Davis, Damiam Lillard was the spark once again for Portland as he turned in a game-high 34, making good on 6-of-13 3s, points, and dished out five assists.
The Blazers, who had to eliminate the Washington Wizards to gain the final spot, continued their hot run with C.J. McCullum contributing 21 points, seven boards and five assists. They also picked up a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from Carmelo Anthony as the first quarter horn sounded, and he finished with 18 points that included four 3s. Then there was 6-foot-11 Justuf Nurkic adding 16 points and 15 boards.
It was close throughout, but Portland always found a way to respond each time LA would make a run. In the final minutes of the game, Lillard came up with four-straight baskets, three from outside. For Los Angeles, which finished 21.5 games ahead of the Trailblazers, it received 23 points, 17 rebounds and 10 assists from James, and a team-high 28 points from Davis, who also took down 14 rebounds and had four blocks.
Next, the 4th-seeded Miami Heat 113-101 win over the 5th-seeded Indiana Pacers Tuesday was as expected, a close contest. The Heat finished two games ahead of the Pacers in the regular season. but Indiana took the early lead, was up by 33-27 after one quarter, but Miami led 56-52 at the half, and 81-79 after three quarters.
But in the final quarter, Miami really took charge, closing with a 32-21 advantage on the play of versatile Jimmy Butler. Indiana tried to make a run, but it was the Heat with the better execution and the stronger defense that kept the Pacers from getting free inside. Butler totaled the game-high 28 points, grabbed 13 rebounds and handed out four assists. Malcolm Brogdon led Indiana with 22 points.
Also on the menu was the 4th-seeded Houston Rockets meeting up with the 5th-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder, and it went in favor of Houston, who without the sidelined Russell Westbrook, banked on James Harden, who came away with 37 points, 11 rebounds and three assists. The Rockets took off with a commanding first half, leading the way 68-52 at intermission, and 105-86 after three quarters.
Oklahoma City received a team-high 21 points from Chris Paul, who also handed out nine assists, and made off with four steals. But it wasn’t enough after Harden and Houston set the tone early.