Orlando, however, had different ideas, and much like last year’s first round when they took Game 1 off of the eventual champion Toronto Raptors, the Magic looked terrific in the opener against Milwaukee, stunning the Bucks in a 122-110 win.
Despite being without Aaron Gordon, Orlando jumped on the Bucks after falling to an early deficit thanks to an 18-2 run that saw Milwaukee sloppily turning the ball over and unable to prevent the Magic from getting open looks, as the likes Markelle Fultz and Gary Clark, both of whom had 15 points on the night, hit big shots early.
The one player the Magic know they can count on for production any given night is Nikola Vucevic, and he stepped up in a big way, scoring 35 points (a playoff career-high) to go along with 14 rebounds as he lit up the Bucks defense to the tune of a 15-for-24 shooting night and hitting 5-of-8 from three-point range.
The Magic took a 10-point lead into the break and, as expected, the Bucks came out hot to start the third quarter, erasing that deficit fairly quickly, but Orlando refused to fold, building back a 13-point lead entering the fourth quarter. In the final period, seemingly every time the Bucks got a couple buckets to inch closer to Orlando, someone on the Magic, from D.J. Augustin (11 points) to Terrance Ross (18 points), hit a big shot to keep Milwaukee at arms length.
For the Bucks, it was Giannis Antetokounmpo doing a little of everything with 31 points, 17 rebounds, and seven assists, but he got little in the way of support from the rest of his teammates. Khris Middleton struggled mightily to the tune of just 14 points on 4-of-12 shooting, showing visible frustration late as he was just unable to find his rhythm. As a team, Milwaukee shot just 14-of-42 (31.7%) from three-point range, with Giannis leading the way at a 3-of-7 clip. It was a woeful performance from just about everyone else on the Bucks, which they obviously need to clean up along the way.
The dagger, as it were, came in the form of back-to-back threes Evan Fournier, who was quiet much of the night before scoring all nine of his points in the fourth, buried two straight threes to extend the Magic lead to 118-102.
The question now is how do the Bucks respond to a rather humiliating loss. This is a team that needs to exorcise some postseason demons of the past and this kind of loss can either serve as a wake up call to bring back the dominant team from the regular season or sow seeds of doubt and a “here we go again” feeling. There’s much to work on for Milwaukee on both ends, where their offense can get painfully stagnant and they have yet to find the defensive cohesion that made them the league’s best on that end in the regular season.
For Orlando, it’ll be all about keeping these vibes going into the next game. They shot 39 percent from three-point range and against a Bucks defense that is happy to provide second and third options with looks, continuing that is the recipe for winning. Despite Giannis’ productive night, they did well keeping Milwaukee out of transition and limited Giannis to just nine free throw attempts, as Steve Clifford had a masterful gameplan in place for the Bucks and their MVP.