Russell Isabella/USA TODAY
Every tenth of a second mattered in the end. Just like every twitch or movement toward the paint that gave Trey Burke that extra space in the corner for his go-ahead 3-pointer.
The little things needed to win. That has been a common refrain in games for the Magic throughout the season. Every time Orlando has a chance to win of late it seems soemthing goes wrong to prevent them from doing so. A foul on a 3-point shooter, a missed layup, a missed free throw, an inbounds violation. Something zany, ordinary and frustrating.
This time it was a combination of things after Victor Oladipo gave the Magic a lead with about a minute to play on a feathery crossover and pull up jumper.
Up by three points, the Magic allowed Derrick Favors to get to the rim very quickly on a pick and roll with 12.5 seconds left. The Jazz quickly fouled Arron Afflalo who split his free throws.
Gordon Hayward took the outlet and drove all the way into the paint (argue about traveling later, folks, it was not called). He sucked in every Magic defender including Maurice Harkless who dug in perhaps a step too much into the paint. Hayward emerged from the other side and fed Trey Burke in the corner.
The rookie calmly drained the 3-pointer, giving the Jazz a one-point lead with 1.9 seconds left.
Orlando could not inbound the ball cleanly to Nikola Vucevic following a timeout. And Afflalo's desperation 3-pointer with 0.4 seconds left was no good.
The frustration at the end of these games continued for the Magic. The little things necessary to win tight games escaped them once again as the Jazz held on for an 89-88 win at EnergySolutions Arena on Saturday.
Orlando had seemingly done everything it needed to do to climb out of another early deficit. The Magic were playing catch up the entire way through the game and only ovvertook the Jazz in the late stages of the game. That is not necessarily a way to work your way to a win, but the Magic put themselves in a position to do so thanks to their effort and their energy.
Maurice Harkless was all over the place on the offensive end as he scored 15 points. His biggest play came when he snuck past Trey Burke and stole a Derrick Favors outlet pass for an easy jam to tie the game. Harkless was agressive and confident with his shot.
Of course, there was another side to the coin as there always is.
Harkless struggled on the defensive end working around the screens that got Richard Jefferson open. Jefferson scored 17 of his 21 points in the first quarter making all four of his 3-pointers and outscoring the Magic on his own.
He was not the only one to struggle on defense despite the Jazz shooting 38.7 percent from the floor. Orlando made several mistakes that ended up costing them victory.
Utah raced out to the lead early in the first quarter only to give it up in the second. The Jazz then raced back out to the lead in the third quarter only to see the Magic whittle it away in the fourth until that thrilling finish. That is a difficult formula to follow to get a win. Again, the little things.
The Magic improved when they stopped settling for jumpers early in the game and looked to run some offense and create better scoring opportunities.
Nikola Vucevic scored 16 points and grabbed 13 rebounds. He also added five assists from the low post. Victor Oladipo had a team-high 19 points on 5-for-14 shooting. Oladipo was better at getting to the basket and his aggression and finesse around the basket increased as the game went on. That is something he needs to continue to work on. Arron Afflalo scored 18 points as well, helping pace the Magic through the second quarter especially.
The Magic got little from their bench however and the offense was a struggle. Solid defense from the Magic's interior players — particularly Kyle O'Quinn — kept the Jazz from making the deficit completely unmanageable.
But it was a deficit nonetheless. And it ended as a deficit by the slimmest of margins.
The Magic's desperation to come back sharpened their execution this time and confidence grew. But Orlando could not close once again.
Eventually that lesson and that experience will come and Orlando will make the plays necessary to win. Until then, it is just frustrating to watch and experience.