Orlando Magic miscommunication of strategy key in loss to Detroit Pistons

Apr 6, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic guard Elfrid Payton (4) looks to pass during the second half of a basketball game against the Detroit Pistons at Amway Center. The Pistons won 108-104. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 6, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic guard Elfrid Payton (4) looks to pass during the second half of a basketball game against the Detroit Pistons at Amway Center. The Pistons won 108-104. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports /

The Orlando Magic had a key miscommunication late in their loss to the Detroit Pistons. It provided a key learning moment or perhaps something more.

The Orlando Magic were clinging to life.

Nikola Vucevic had just split a pair of free throws that brought the Magic within two points with 29.3 seconds left. There was some disappointment that Vucevic, a reliable free throw shooter, missed the opportunity to make it a one-point game. Maybe that would change what would happen next.

Orlando had five seconds of cushion as the ball got pass from Reggie Bullock to Reggie Jackson. The Magic had given up their lead but were hanging tough and still had a chance to win.

With that differential they still had the ability to get a stop, call a timeout and set up for a game-tying shot.

There was little time to make a decision on how to play this. The Pistons were going to advance the ball and take the time off the clock.

Whatever the communication and decision ultimately would be, what happened was somewhat confusing for everyone watching. Elfrid Payton took a foul with 24.5 seconds left, sending Jackson to the line. The play did not make much logical sense as two free throws from Jackson would make it a four-point game and take it out of a one-possession game.

Payton said after the game, he made the call to foul Jackson.

“Personally, I figured five seconds wouldn’t be enough seeing as we weren’t doing really well on the board tonight,” Payton said after the game. “That was my thinking about it. Still we had a chance. Technically it didn’t work out, but we were still in a good position I thought.”

On two previous possessions, the Magic struggled to secure a rebound with replay giving the Pistons a second chance on one opportunity and then the Magic getting the ball back on another.

Payton had reason to be unsure of the Magic’s ability to get a stop, secure the rebound and get the bucket to tie the game or take the lead.

And it is true Payton’s gamble did nearly pay off for the Magic. Jackson made it a four-point game, but Evan Fournier hit a layup and drew a foul to cut the lead to one. After a pair of Jackson free throws, the Magic got an open 3-pointer for Fournier. He missed though and the Magic would eventually lose by four.

While Payton stuck to his decision, coach Scott Skiles said that was not what the coaches wanted him to do in that situation. It was a potentially — and probably actually — costly decision to extend the game that way.

“We’ve gone through it many times,” Skiles said Thursday. “We went through it again today. I don’t know any other way than to go over it. Until we get better at it.”

Communication coming out of timeouts has been an issue throughout the season. As far back as December, Skiles had said there would be times where the coaches would make adjustments on the sideline in timeouts and the team would not be able to implement those adjustments on the floor.

There is still a lot of growth and experience to go for these players and this team. Even with all the close games the team has played this year.

This one though seemed to have a different tinge to it.

Payton took responsibility and acknowledged it was his call. But with the likelihood that the coaches had gone over this or a similar situation before, it raises a small question about whether the communication is effective, whether players take to heart that message, whether they freelance and go away from the system often or some combination of those three. Likely some combination.

Elfrid Payton, Orlando Magic
Dec 9, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Orlando Magic guard Elfrid Payton (4) dribbles the basketball up the court during the second half of the game against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena. The Suns won 107-104. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports /

Payton stood by his decision, but acknowledged the communication from the coaches and the bench might have gotten lost in the moment of the game.

“I figured we had a five-second difference, I didn’t think that was enough time honestly,” Payton said. “Obviously we could have gotten the stop, gotten the rebound and called timeout. The way they were on the boards last night, I didn’t want to take a chance of the ball getting tipped around. That was my thinking behind it.

“Coach felt a different way. Through the course of the game, communication isn’t always the best. It was loud in the arena, I was on the other side of the court. If I had heard him say don’t foul, I wouldn’t. Just my thinking in the game and my feel for the game, that’s what I felt.”

There is plenty that could be read into this moment. Or it could be read with the simple acknowledgement of the coaching staff could not call to him not to foul and Payton made a decision he thought was in his team’s best interests.

The Magic still had one more look to tie the game. That may be the same number of looks the team would have had if they had gotten the stop and secured the rebound. That what-if game can be played to the ends of the earth.

If there is a lesson to take from this end-of-game situation, it is that this team is still learning how to execute and play in close games. They are still getting familiar with different situations and executing.

This disagreement in strategy — ultimately it is always the player that has to execute and coaches have to adjust depending on the quality of their execution — is likely another lesson for a young point guard in how he relates to his coach.

Next: Orlando Magic run out of time as Detroit Pistons execute

What happens the next time this kind of a situation pops up will be as telling as anything else with how this team relates to its coach and has matured in the process.