Rob Foldy/USA TODAY
There was nothing anyone needed to say at halftime for the Magic that was not painfully obvious.
New York was running roughshod over Orlando's defense, finding easy shots and open 3-pointers seemingly at will and turning every mistake into a made basket. The Magic could not buy a bucket and had an offense that stagnated and stalled out to a 24-point deficit at the half.
It seemed like a repeat of New York's 30-point thrashing of Orlando earlier this month was in order. The Magic played without energy, without aggression and without any fire. It was painfully easy to see.
Nothing needed to be said.
"In the first half, we let them hit us," Nikola Vucevic said. "In the second half, we hit them. We made our run, we got back. We had a chance. But we can't have those type of games where we get down by 20. We're just not a good enough team to do that. We just have to start playing in the beginning like we did in the second half."
The Magic came out with a little bit of fire in the third quarter and cut into the deficit. Carmelo Anthony leaving at the 7:26 mark with a 20-point lead certainly seemed to help as Anthony carved the Magic's defense for 19 points on 7-for-14 shooting.
Something had turned by then however. Orlando was in the midst of a 22-6 run that brough the team within single digits. The long road seemed more manageable entering the final quarter. But the road was too long in the end as the Magic fell 103-98 at Amway Center on Monday.
With Jacque Vaughn riding his starters hard, the Magic brought the game within one possession six times in the final quarter. Each time New York had an answer, whether it was J.R. Smith stripping Tobias Harris and Glen Davis on breakaway layups or Iman Shumpert stealing a kickout pass from a double team and making the lay in for a six-point lead.
It sometimes seems as if the Knicks lose even when they win. But there was no denying the Magic lost this one.
"I told the guys after the game that I'm not that good of a coach to dig a hole like that and try to fight our way back into the games continuously," Jacque Vaughn said. "What I do like is the kind of frenetic and maniacal approach that we had in the second half which got us back into the game. We will continue to work, but the next step for us is being able to start the game nad consistently play with that kind of frenetic effort."
The Magic certainly had a bit more urgency in the second half after falling behind so lackadaisically in the first half. The Magic began pushing the pace more and dictating tempo. Vaughn said the team simplified the offense — he estimated they ran only three plays the entire second half — running a lot more pick and rolls in the middle of the floor to try to force more action into the paint.
Jameer Nelson was the conductor of this play, scoring 11 of his 17 points in the second half. He also had six of his 10 assists in the final 24 minutes and finished with eight rebounds as well. His only downfall was that he made only three of his 10 3-point attempts.
Arron Afflalo also turned in a heroic effort in the second half, scoring 16 of his 26 in the second half. Glen Davis did his best too with 13 points on 6-for-17 shooting in the second half. He fought to keep plays alive and bring the Magic back into the game. It was not pretty, but it did not have to be.
"We took it upon ourselves as individuals to say, we have to play for something," Davis said. "We did. We played for pride, we played for everything."
That obviously was not enough. Or, if it was enough the urgency came too late to get completely out of the hole. Or, even still, the Magic had too few guys to rely on to deliver that kind of energy.
Jacque Vaughn went with only six guys in the second half, subbing Jason Maxiell in early in the fourth quarter. His starting lineup of Jameer Nelson, Arron Afflalo, Tobias Harris, Glen Davis and Nikola Vucevic played virtually the entire second half. He said it was a conscious decision because the team was playing so well.
As Davis pointed out, when you are trying to come back from a deep hole, the margin for error decreases rapidly. The Magic had to play just about perfect defense to get back into the game. They did in giving up 36.8 percent shooting in the second half to the Knicks. The margin for error was too slim in the end though.
Fatigue will not be used as an excuse, but it was clear as shots kept falling short and the team made mistakes toward the end, that the team simply ran out of gas. The chance to win had passed this team by and nobody seemed thrilled with that.
From Tobias Harris saying he hates to lose and nobody likes losing to Glen Davis. They want the moral victories to stop and the wins to start coming in.
"Moral victories… It's time to win," Glen Davis said. "We dug ourselves in a hole. I don't know what it was — if we played with a chip on our shoulder or New York let up a little bit. We kept fighting. We gave ourselves a chance to win the game and we just couldn't finish."
That will be something to stew on over Christmas.