One play does not define an entire game. It might be the postgame focus or the highlight seen on SportsCenter. But it was not the game.
When Gustavo Ayon went to the foul line with 2.4 seconds left in the game and a two-point deficit after a brilliant transition drive and dish by Jameer Nelson, the game very much rested on Ayon's foul shots. Ayon entered the game shooting 59.3 percent from the foul line. The odds of him making both and sending the game to overtime did not seem good.
Ayon's first free throw — the one he absolutely had to get — rimmed out off the left side. He now had to miss the next free throw on purpose and hope for a rebound and tip in. Kyle O'Quinn got a hand on it but Jamaal Tinsley secured the rebound and secured the win.
Utah had escaped Orlando 97-93 and it was missed opportunities — like Ayon's two missed free throws — that ended Orlando's hopes for a win.
"It’s hard" Ayon said. "At the end I had a chance to tie the game. I wasn’t able to do it, but we have to keep working."
The bulk of the work for the Magic will be focused on fixing their sudden turnover bug. Orlando committed 20 turnovers that led to 22 Utah points. It helped erase a second straight game where the Magic outrebounded and outshot their opponents from the floor. Orlando had the game within their reach again, but an inability to execute and protect the basketball led to added opportunities for their opponent and a second straight defeat.
It was only the second game the team committed 20 turnovers this season. And Orlando is now 3-13 in game where it commits 16 or more turnovers.
The problem was especially bad in the fourth quarter with the Magic going back and forth with the Jazz and competing for the lead. Orlando committed seven turnovers in the final quarter with four of them coming from the usually reliable J.J. Redick. Considering the Magic only lost by four points and had several chances to tie the game or take the lead late, every possession clearly mattered.
"It’s tough. Like I said last game: too many turnovers," Jameer Nelson said. "When you shoot the way we shoot and put guys in successful situations the way we do and turn the ball over 20 times, you take shots out of guy’s hands. We’re all doing it, it’s not one guy. It’s not one quarter, it’s every quarter. It’s too many. We just have to value the ball a lot more and get good shots."
The Magic again shot the lights out for most of the game, finishing the game at 50.0 percent shooting and hitting on 9 of 20 3-pointers. Orlando had 25 assists, including nine from Nelson. They moved the ball fluidly — particularly in a 30-point first quarter where the Magic began to assert themselves and picked apart a soft Jazz defense for eight assists and 14-for-21 shooting.
The Magic opened up a 16-point lead in the first half and seemed able to move the ball and shoot at will. But Utah muddied the game up, drawing fouls and grinding its way back into the game.
After an efficient first half where Arron Afflalo scored 13 points, Afflalo finished with only 20 points on 9-for-19 shooting, hitting three of eight in the second half. Jameer Nelson scored 14 points, but needed 13 field goal attempts to get there. J.J. Redick was reliable for 14 points, and hitting a big 3-pointer with 11.5 seconds left to bring Utah's lead to one point, but the seven turnovers stick out.
Nikola Vucevic stood out too, helping to hold Al Jefferson to only 12 points and 6-for-14 shooting while scoring 16 points and grabbing 16 rebounds on his own.
The Magic certainly felt they had this one in their grasps and it just slipped away.
"That’s the frustrating part. We’re playing good basketball," Nelson said. "We’re playing great defense. We’re helping each other. We’re doing things with a lot of effort. Then on the offensive end, we turn the ball over after working so hard on defense. In my eyes, the turnovers kind of killed us tonight."
There was a lot of good from the Magic offensively. Once again the team fought and continued to fight back and find a way to make a game of it.
But it came down to execution for Orlando. The Magic did not value the ball and got sloppy — whether it was an aggressive play or a player simply not being ready for the ball or the Jazz's physical defense. That cost them the game.
"I think it’s pretty simple, you outrebound a team, you shoot 50 percent from the field, you make nine threes. 20 turnovers for 22 points. The game is really that simple," Jacque Vaughn said.