CHICAGO — The Orlando Magic knew they faced a challenge Tuesday night that they had not encountered yet this season. Even without injured superstar Derrick Rose, the Chicago Bulls’ physicality and defensive intensity leaves their opponents with little margin for error.
This wasn’t the time for the Magic to drift away from the unselfish team-ball mentality that had made their offense so effective in their first two games.
They learned that lesson the hard way. After leading a seesaw game for much of the third quarter, the Magic offense stalled early in the fourth, just as the Bulls caught traction. The result was a 99-93 Orlando loss in front of an announced sellout crowd of 21,216 at the United Center.
“I think it reinforces how we have to play basketball,” coach Jacque Vaughn said. “We can’t play one-on-one basketball. When we shared the basketball, we got good looks tonight. When we turn it into a one-on-one contest, we’re not going to get good looks.”
No one epitomized that more than Glen Davis, who made just seven of his 22 shot attempts and took an ill-advised 3-pointer with just under a minute left in the game as Orlando trailed by four points.
Although Davis finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds, his inefficiency on offense brought consequences.
“There’s no All-Stars on this team,” Davis said. “Any night, anybody can be our star. But at the end of the night, we need to help each other. And tonight, we kind of got away from it a little bit.”
The Bulls (3-1) made it difficult for the Magic (2-1), too.
Chicago’s rugged frontcourt of Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah didn’t give Davis much room to operate, especially close to the rim.
“I thought when we made him play in a crowd, we were effective,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “And I thought when we gave him space, he was effective. And he’s hard-playing.”
So were the rest of Davis’ Magic teammates, who combined with the Bulls to produce 14 lead changes and four ties.
Chicago took a 57-54 lead midway through the third quarter on a jumper by Kirk Hinrich.
The Magic could’ve crumbled.
E’Twaun Moore followed his own missed running jumper with a layup, and his basket ignited a 12-2 run that ended when Arron Afflalo, stationed behind the arc, drew a shooting foul from Hinrich.
Afflalo, who finished with a game-high 28 points, hit the foul shots and put the Magic up 66-59 with 3:26 remaining in the third quarter.
The Magic carried a 70-68 lead into the fourth quarter, but their offense stalled.
“Our ball movement just wasn’t great, especially in the second half,” said J.J. Redick, who finished with 10 points on 4-of-11 shooting.
“Against a team like Chicago or the Celtics’ defense and a couple of other teams, you really have to move the ball side to side to get good shots. You’re not going to beat these guys if you keep the ball on one side of the floor. We got bogged down a little bit offensively.”
Meanwhile, Deng scored eight of his team-high 23 points in the fourth quarter, while Nate Robinson and Taj Gibson came off the bench to add seven points apiece.
“I think we wanted it more,” Robinson said. “I think at the end we were more gritty. Coach said, ‘Whatever it takes to get the win.’ So tonight we had to gut it out.”
Down 91-81, Redick hit a 3-pointer with 2:17 remaining in regulation.
About a minute later, Orlando was trailing 93-89 when Gibson missed a jumper.
But the Magic couldn’t convert on their opportunity.
Davis took a rushed 3-pointer from the top of the arc, and Gibson hauled in the rebound.
“We’re a young team, but at the same time, we compete and we were in the ballgame,” Davis said.
“We were leading the game the majority of the game. Today was a big lesson for us. We learned a lot today, and I think it’s going to help us.”
firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his blog at OrlandoSentinel.com/magicblog and follow him on Twitter at @JoshuaBRobbins.