David Manning/USA TODAY
All the Magic can ask for in games is a chance to win it at the end. An opportunity to put the game away. To feel good coming off the floor. The exultant close win over the Celtics was going to be a lesson for that.
Only against the Hawks, some of the players making the mistakes were players who should have learned those lessons already.
If there was a situation that would enrage Magic fans, hungry to see the growth of the young players, it had to come in the final moments of the Hawks' 112-109 win over the Magic at Amway.
On the final two possessions it was Jameer Nelson and Glen Davis, on the bench for the bulk of Orlando's run that erased as much as a 19-point deficit, taking the shots. Both of them seemed ill-advised (and certainly do in hindsight).
Trailing by one point, with 22.8 seconds left, Jameer Nelson got into the paint and saw Paul Millsap (with five blocks already) beginning to size him up. He whipped the ball quickly to Glen Davis. Davis had time to reset and give the Magic another chance to run a play (or call their final timeout). Instead, he rushed a quick jumper and the Hawks got the rebound and two free throws.
Down by three points after a timeout with 11.1 seconds left, the Magic struggled to run a dribble handoff play between Jameer Nelson and Arron Afflalo. Nelson got the ball and could do nothing but try a step-back 3-pointer for the tie. It fell off the front rim.
Notably, neither Tobias Harris or Victor Oladipo touched the ball on either possession in pick and rolls situation, the precise play that opened things up for the Magic in the 19-point comeback in the third and fourth quarters.
"We had two options on that play," Jacque Vaughn said. "I thought we had time. I think the possession before that, we had a decent look. I was hoping we would get a little bit more than the shot that we got at the end."
Putting everything on the veterans is a bit unfair. Vaughn is the head coach and his decision to go with those plays is on him. It appeared on the penultimate possession, the Magic got the kind of shot they were looking for and got the defense to collapse like they wanted.
There were plenty of other mistakes to get there too.
Orlando held a five-point lead with 2:50 to play and then proceeded to miss four of their final six shots and commit a crucial turnover. That Tobias Harris turnover was followed by an layup from Paul Millsap and a silly reach-in foul on Harris. That made free throw put the Hawks up one and the see-saw began.
It ended when Nelson fouled Pero Antic and he hit both free throws to give the Hawks the lead for good. It was those mistakes which cost the Magic down the stretch and equaled another loss in a close game.
"It's tough. We had it won really," Victor Oladipo said. "We've got to do a better job playing D without fouling down the stretch. Overall, we did a good job of just staying into the game and guys did a great job coming off the bench and playing at a high level."
The Magic's bench players — led by surprisingly Doron Lamb with Victor Oladipo and Tobias Harris providing a steady diet of consistent scoring — proved to be the key in giving Orlando the chance to win.
The Magic went on a 19-6 run after falling behind by 19 points. They overtook the Hawks by the mid-point of the fourth quarter. Effort and grit fueled the run with Oladipo and Harris running the pick and roll, the Magic getting out on the break and forcing turnovers.
In the stretch from the time the Magic were down 19 points to the time they took a 93-92 lead with 7:55 left in the fourth quarter, Oladipo scored eight of his 24 points and had four of his seven assists. Tobias Harris had seven of his 19 points in that stretch. And Doron Lamb scored 10 of his 13 points off the bench before fouling out.
This motley crue shot 10 for 15 from the floor in that stretch to erase the deficit and brought energy to the Amway Center with stellar defense and activity around the basket. The ball was moving, players were cutting off the ball and the confidence was flowing.
"They're young, they have a lot of energy," Arron Afflalo said of the group that played during that run. "They kind of had a nothing to lose mentality. They were out there playing together and playing hard. They made a pretty inspiring run. I've got to commend them for that. But obviously, you need the entire team to play well to win. Obviously, those guys did their job tonight."
Obviously, the intimation is that Afflalo and several of the other players did not complete their job in this one.
The early parts of the game were characterized by that lack of a sense of urgency or "nothing to lose" mentality. The Hawks had their way in the paint for much of the evening, particularly early before being able to hit a barrage of 3-pointers in the third quarter to help build the lead. It seemed as though Orlando could not plug all the gaps and had to pick their poison.
Paul Millsap scored 24 points, Jeff Teague added 23 points and DeMarre Carroll had 17 points for the Hawks. Meanwhile, Afflalo had just six points for the Magic on 3-for-9 shooting, struggling to find his foothold.
The rest of the Magic relied on creating turnovers and points off those turnovers — 27 points of 17 turnovers — to stay in the game. The Magic got to the line for 24 free throws and did enough of that to keep the Hawks within reach. At least until the dam broke somewhat in the third quarter.
Believe it or not, this is a team that still has to figure out how to find consistency for 48 minutses and keep the pressure on opponents with good execution.
"That kind of goes without saying, that's the key to winning games," Afflalo said. "It takes a full four quarters. It's not many times you'll be able to play two or three quarters of a game and it's in hand. Those situations are rare. For us this season, that's what it has taken for the victories that we've gotten. It just didn't happen tonight."
The energy and momentum of a big run got lost pretty quickly and the Magic had to learn to grind. It is a lesson that seems to be repeating far too often at this point.