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Lately, the Nikola Vucevics and Moe Harklesses of the Magic’s roster have been impressing as they’ve worked their way to a record improbably close to .500. But taking on the Kyrie Irving-less Cavs, it was Orlando’s veterans who carried the day.
This game was always going to be ugly. The Magic don’t have a lot of talent as it is and the Cavs were missing their best player. The Magic’s veterans provided key contributions, which ultimately prevailed over the shorthanded Cavs’ relative inexperience. Big Baby did plenty of head-scratching Big Baby things on offense, but he also took advantage of Cavs rookie center Tyler Zeller.
Arron Afflalo looked much more comfortable shooting from deep, an encouraging development given his recent shot-selection issues. He hit one of the biggest shots of the game with just under two minutes on the clock — a three-pointer that gave the Magic a two-possession lead and a little bit of breathing room after a hard-fought battle back from a first-half deficit.
Jameer Nelson had the kind of performance that makes his offseason re-signing seem smart and reminded us how important he can be when healthy. He did a little bit of everything for the Magic, scoring confidently inside and out as well as adding six rebounds and six assists. His three-point shooting (4-for-8) gave the Magic another deep threat other than Afflalo and when coupled with his ability to attack the rim, he made it difficult for the Cavs to respond.
Rookie Dion Waiters has been up-and-down during his rookie season and he had a pretty solid performance, but the Magic did well to make him take 22 shots to get his 25 points.
But it was J.J. Redick who put the game away, even as he went cold from the field. He missed all five shots he took in the fourth quarter after starting the game a perfect 4-for-4. However, he made up for this by nailing eight free throws down the stretch.
The contributions from the Magic’s young players were hit-or-miss. Vucevic did an excellent job countering yet another monster game from Anderson Varejao, finishing with 10 points and 8 rebounds. Andrew Nicholson looked good in his 12 minutes, but foul trouble severely limited his effectiveness. Harkless grabbed three offensive rebounds.
Had Irving played, this game might not have been close. Jeremy Pargo had a good shooting game starting in his place for the Cavs, but he isn’t nearly the ballhandler or distributor Kyrie is. And Pargo was simply overmatched by Nelson. Jameer’s ability to exploit matchup advantages over clearly inferior opponents has proven instrumental in the Magic’s solid start to the season and this victory was no different.
MVP (Most Valuable Player)
Redick’s 18 points weren’t a team-high (Afflalo had 19 and Nelson had 22). But he was a perfect 8-for-8 from the foul line and all eight of those makes came down the stretch, which ultimately put the game away for the Magic.
LVP (Least Valuable Player)
Tristan Thompson had a wholly unremarkable game for the Cavs and got benched down the stretch for rookie Tyler Zeller.
The Magic collected 16 turnovers, many of them avoidable, and somehow only trailed by six at the half. They only turned it over twice in the final two quarters, which was in large part responsible for their pulling out the victory.