Orlando Magic go small vs small against Golden State Warriors, but still lose the inside game

Mar 7, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon (00) high fives guard Brandon Jennings (55) after a play against the Golden State Warriors during the fourth quarter at Oracle Arena. The Golden State Warriors defeated the Orlando Magic 119-113. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 7, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon (00) high fives guard Brandon Jennings (55) after a play against the Golden State Warriors during the fourth quarter at Oracle Arena. The Golden State Warriors defeated the Orlando Magic 119-113. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports /

The Orlando Magic opted to match the Golden State Warriors late and use a small-ball lineup. It helped the Magic cut into the fourth-quarter deficit.

119. 41. 113. 38. Final

The Orlando Magic came oh so close . . . again.

While the end result was a disappointment, the Magic showed an innovative way to get themselves in the game and nearly pull off what would likely have been the biggest story of the season so far.

Annoyingly, a 20-point embarrassment to the Phoenix Suns and a well played nail biter against the Golden State Warriors both end up as the same thing in the win/loss column.

The Magic teased the world Monday, keeping the game just in reach until the final minutes. Despite a few if-this-goes-in moments, the Magic just never got that go-ahead basket and denied the world of pundits overreacting to an actual Warriors losing streak.

After the first half, it looked like a game where the Magic were going through the motions, by the end it was clear the Magic wanted it. They came close and the way they came close was surprisingly beating the Warriors at their own game (or one of their own games).

No, they did not suddenly light it up from beyond 3-point land. Instead, they went small.

For the entire fourth quarter, the Magic played without a true center. Ersan Ilyasova and Aaron Gordon manned the 5-spot, forcing Golden State to take Andrew Bogut out of the game. Orlando won the quarter 36-25, cutting a 17-point deficit entering the quarter down to as little as two points.

Consider the Magic’s main weakness all night was the inside game, it was a shrewd move that ended up working out. In a situation the Magic probably would not have been in otherwise. Nikola Vucevic was a late scratch with a sore groin.

The result was clear for most of the game.

Despite the Warriors playing aggressive defense, causing turnovers and getting some good shooting from Evan Fournier, the Warriors simply got what they wanted inside plus numerous offensive boards and tip outs from Andrew Bogut.

All of this adds up to quite a move from coach Scott Skiles to go small when the Warriors did.

Golden State’s smaller lineup, normally consisting of Draymond Green sliding down to center (forward Harrison Barnes slid to the position for a time tonight). This is where the Magic made their move.

After shooting 37.0 percent in the first half, the Magic put up 60-plus points in the second half. Their own small ball, multi-guard lineup was able to force the issue on defense and really worry the Warriors. Orlando forced seven turnovers and was able to space the floor and get out on the break and to the foul line.

While C.J. Watson, Brandon Jennings and Victor Oladipo took the back court with Evan Fournier playing the four. Aaron Gordon played the Green role, sliding down to the center and excelled there.

At the 6:44 mark, Aaron Gordon checked in to complete this lineup. The Magic made 6 of 10 from the floor and outscored the Warriors 19-17. They got the line for 7-for-8 shooting from the foul line. They cut the lead to two points.

It proved to be an effective lineup for this game. Whether we will see it again, is another question.

Gordon’s rebounding, after all, is a major strength against seven footers. In their absence his ability was even more notable.

Indeed, if there is a positive for the Magic, it is that this game is another rung on Gordon’s ladder, the young stud finished with 20 and 18. The three-guard lineup used their quick hands to force multiple turnovers and then gave an immediate burst on the fast break (which Gordon’s natural athleticism also worked well with).

On a historic night for the Warriors (they have now won 45 straight at home, the best mark in NBA history), the Magic seriously worried the Warriors’ faithful. The restlessness was palpable.

In the end, it came down to three things: Klay Thompson‘s three to put Golden State up five, Andrew Bogut’s defense on Victor Oladipo and Stephen Curry‘s steal from that defense that put the nail in the coffin.

It was certainly by no means the fault of the Magic’s experiment with a smaller lineup. Skiles found something that worked and it gave his chance a team to win the game.

Could it work long term? Does it deserve more experimentation?

In the end, the rebounding numbers are not too skewed. The Warriors had 50 rebounds to the Magic’s 42, and only one more offensive board along with countless little tips that went the right way.

Related Story: Orlando Magic keep fighting, fall to Golden State Warriors

The Magic also defeated another common weakness of theirs: free throw shooting. Orlando finished shooting 28 for 34 (82.4 percent) beating Golden State in attempts and percentage. The Magic were willing to attack and get there.

Even more impressively many of these attempts came in the final minutes as the Warriors had to foul in the mid court to stop multiple fast breaks. It has been seen too often this season, the bad free throw shooting in the clutch, that this performance was a refreshing twist.

The Magic had impressive performances from Oladipo, Elfrid Payton, Fournier, Jennings and Gordon, but ultimately could not get it done as a team.

The lack of a veteran presence was clear in the waning minutes. The Magic had multiple chances at getting a go-ahead basket, one that would likely have broken the Warriors’ back, but could not cap their impressive come back.

There were a couple of rushed threes, an awkward catch by Jennings he should have laid up but did not and just a tad of simply not knowing what to do in the last offenses.

Orlando gave itself a chance though. Working this odd lineup to its advantage.

The team earned another moral victory, and they did it in a surprising and different way with their own take on a small-ball line up.

Though the decision by Skiles was likely heavily influenced by Vucevic’s absence and more forced than chosen, we cannot split hairs. The youth and athleticism did its job.