Among the reasons the Orlando Magic are not among contending teams in the Eastern Conference has been inconsistency on both offense and defense. Another glaring shortcoming has been production off the bench.
When receiving significant contributions from the second unit, good things often happen. A case in point came on Saturday night, when the reserves sparked a 105-103 win over the Boston Celtics at the Amway Center.
Wesley Iwundu, Khem Birch, Isaiah Briscoe and Terrance Ross were more than worthy fill-ins for the starters. Each made different contributions that helped lead the Magic from a 10-point halftime deficit to the narrow victory.
Briscoe and Iwundu were steady and made plays during their time on the floor, but Ross got hot and scored 25 points in 31 minutes of play. Birch scored only four points in his 18 minutes, but hauled down 10 rebounds, set some key screens, and defended the rim by blocking four shots.
The group kept the Magic in the game while many of the starters were struggling. In the plus/minus category, all starters except Aaron Gordon had a negative rating, meaning they were outscored while they were on the floor.
On the other hand, Birch, Ross, and Briscoe were outscoring the Celtics by double digits when they were in the lineup. Gordon spent time on the floor with the bench players and came away with a +11 rating as he led all scorers with 28 points.
With Mo Bamba out with an injury, Magic coach Steve Clifford used only 9 players on Friday. More will be needed on Saturday as the Magic will be playing on consecutive nights against a Houston Rockets team that had Friday off.
Clifford is hoping for more strong production from the second unit that will likely also include Jonathan Simmons and Jerian Grant, neither of whom played on Friday. That group will likely determine how far the Magic go for the rest of the season.
“Oh, 82 games, you need them all. Being able to play well consistently, you’re not going to do it with 7 or 8 guys,” Clifford said in postgame comments praising the reserves. “You’ve got to have a bunch of guys and when their time comes, they have to be able to step up and play well. It’s part of being a professional player.”
It was the second win in two tries against the Celtics. Orlando won in Boston 93-90 in November with the starters leading the way.
Tip off against James Harden and the Rockets is set for 6:00 p.m. at the Amway Center.