Magic still searching for crunch time options

Brad Mills/USA TODAY

That Thursday night game against the Cavaliers was a perfect chance for the Magic to show their mettle in a tight game. Or at least to show that they can hold on to a seemingly insurmountable lead and finish the game.

Winning close games is generally pretty random, but finishing games is something good teams consistently do. Orlando is clearly not at that level yet.

When a nine-point lead with a minute to go against a team without its lone All Star (and has the same record as you anyway) is not safe, there are major problems with how your team finishes game.

Unfortunately, the Magic are a 10-win team and so there are not many opportunities to gain experience closing out games. Most of those experiences come in letting the games slip out of reach rather than closing them out for a win.

Already this season, the Magic have played in 16 games where the score was within five points in the final five minutes. They have lost 14 of those.

The numbers do not get any prettier if the game is closer with less time.

Orlando is 2-13 with the scoring margin within five points and less than three minutes. The team is 0-10 in games when the margin is within five points in the final minute of play.

The four factors break down will make you cringe even more.

Situation Mins Off. Rtg. Def. Rtg. eFG% Opp. eFG% TO%
Overall 1796 98.0 103.5 48.2 49.6 15.5
5pts<5min 57 80.9 103.3 35.7 43.5 16.9
5pts<3min 33 79.6 125.3 31.5 53.8 15.6
5pts<1min 11 93.0 109.3 34.8 38.5 11.6

As you can see, there is a lot of red meaning that the number is worse than the full-game average.

To some extent, those numbers are a product of a small sample size. One bad performance — like that Cleveland game — will skew things prety heavily. But it is also a pretty clear sign that the Magic are not executing with much efficiency when the game is on the line. 

Seeing these numbers decrease is not too much of a surprise. Coaches tend to go conservative in these situations and teams abandon sound offense for more isolations in these late-game situations. Still, there is no denying that the Magic seem to be struggling even more in these situations.

Part of that might be the revolving door of players that have gone in an out of the lineup and played in these situations. The Magic are still gaining chemistry together.

"As everyone gets back into a complete flow, we'll have a substitution pattern that will be pretty planned out," Jacque Vaughn said. "I don't think you always go with who is hot that night.

"You take, for example, Arron has been our most consistent player this year. There is going to be some nights that he might not be hot in the fourth quarter and I might still go with him. That's part of basketball and that's part of having a feel as a coach. A lot of times I'll do that, play by instinct and feel. And a lot of times the players in the game make the decision for me with how well they're playing."

So who is playing well late in games? This charts out the Magic's key players in five-point games with less than five minutes to play (a green number is above season averages, a red number is below):

Player Mins. P/36 eFG% 3FG% FT% PIE
Arron Afflalo 51 19.9 46.7% 33.3% 100% 14.9%
Jameer Nelson 41 4.3 19.2% 12.5% 0% -3.7%
Glen Davis 34 17.6 34.2% 33.3% 80.0% 1.9%
Nikola Vucevic 36 13.0 55.6% 0.0% 100% 14.3%
Tobias Harris 12 8.7 0.0% 0.0% 75.0% -21.1%
Victor Oladipo 39 3.7 11.1% 0.0% 50.0% -7.5%

As you can see, these key players all struggle mightily when the stakes are at their highest. That certainly explains some of the Magic's struggles at that stage of the game. Except for Nikola Vucevic and (surprisingly) Glen Davis, every other player plays below his season averages, sometimes significantly so.

It is hard to tell whether the Magic are doing anything different in this stage of the game.

"It's only pressure if you put pressure on yourself," Oladipo said. "You just go out there and play your game, execute and be in it mentally."

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It is pretty well known that teams change their offensive strategy late in games. They take more time off the clock and rely a lot more on pick and rolls and isolation play, treasuring taking time off the clock than an efficient offense. This makes things even harder for the Magic.

Orlando already has an offense that ranks in the bottom half of the league (and dropping). Late in games, when the team gets those clutch opportunities, an offense that already struggles seems to bottle up more.

On paper, at least, it feels like the Magic have tons of options that would be better suited when they run their normal offense. Those options are clearly not being used effectively late in these games. And that is costing them wins.

"Nobody is an All Star on this team," Glen Davis said. "We don't have the type of player that can just get the ball and go one-on-four. When we do that on offense, we can't let our offense affect our defense."

To win these close games, it will take a much more concerted effort on both sides of the ball. Perhaps that will help increase the team's efficiency and effectiveness late in games.

Philip Rossman-Reich

About Philip Rossman-Reich

Philip Rossman-Reich is the managing editor for Crossover Chronicles and Orlando Magic Daily. You can follow him on twitter @OMagicDaily