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Magic crumbles in second half, loses Game 7 despite Paolo Bachero’s 38 points and great runs

CLEVELAND (AP) — Paolo Banchero’s first taste of the NBA playoffs ended bitterly.

The Orlando Magic couldn’t finish what they started.

After opening an 18-point lead in the first half, the Magic buckled under pressure as the Cleveland Cavaliers rallied for a 106-94 victory in Game 7 on Sunday, ending a back-and-forth series in which the home court meant everything.

Banchero scored 38 points – his third game with at least 30 in the series – but it wasn’t enough as the Magic couldn’t stop Donovan Mitchell when he needed to and their season ended in disappointment.

It was quite an experience for the sensational 21-year-old Banchero, who said Game 7 was more than he bargained for.

“It was a great environment and probably the most intense game I’ve ever played in my life,” said the 2022 No. 1 overall pick. “Each possession, the toll it takes on your body and your mind is enormous.”

As the Cavs chipped away at Orlando’s lead in the second half, Banchero said the Cleveland crowd was so loud that it was difficult for the Magic to provoke offensive plays. He couldn’t hear the instructions he and his teammates were receiving from coach Jamahl Mosley and his staff.

Still, the Magic trailed by just seven points entering the fourth before Mitchell, who finished with 39 and scored 89 combined in Games 6 and 7, put Orlando away.

It was a painful way to end Orlando’s breakout season. The Magic only won 34 games a year ago and there weren’t many people predicting them to be ranked No. 5 heading into the playoffs.

Although the ending was tough, one of the youngest teams in the competition gained valuable experience.

“I walked into the locker room and said this was stupid,” Mosley said. “To have the opportunity to have closure as an 18-year-old, it doesn’t feel good. But sometimes painful losses are a blessing in disguise. I know it sucks right now, but I couldn’t be more proud of them.”

Mosley was confident his team did not lose their cool.

“I don’t think there is any loss of calm,” he said. “They started running and we kind of stood still. There was no whining, no moaning, no yelling. Our guys were focused on how to get the next shot.”

With Banchero doing his part, Franz Wagner and Jalen Suggs shot a combined 3 for 28. Suggs, who suffered a serious ankle injury in the opener, was just 2 of 10 on 3-pointers.

“We were looking good and they just weren’t falling,” Suggs said. “I think we can live with that because we gave everything we could. I’m sorry we couldn’t get this out.”

This was all new for Orlando, which has its entire core back next season and is expected to be active in free agency.

Next year will bring higher expectations, but the Magic should be ready.

“We will not miss this experience in the play-offs next season,” said center Jonathan Isaac. “We will have this on our resume and a chip on our shoulder to come back.”

Banchero showed why he is one of the league’s rising stars, a player who is just beginning to fulfill his potential. He averaged 27.0 points and 8.6 rebounds in his first playoff series, and in Game 7 he tied a team record with 15 free throws.

“Special,” Mosley said of his young star. “He wanted every ounce of what they threw at him. There’s a reason why he’s an All-Star and is going to be an All-NBA. He’s going to be in big games.”

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AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/NBA

Tom Withers, The Associated Press