The Orlando Magic’s disappointing loss to the Chicago Bulls came from several self-inflicted wounds. These mistakes are correctable if the team locks in.
With the game tied, the Bulls had called a timeout and Clifford expected them to come out with their small lineup. He matched, putting Jonathan Isaac at center with the versatile defensive lineup around him. Chicago had Robin Lopez on the floor still. The Orlando Magic did not substitute Nikola Vucevic back into the game.
Orlando got the initial stop, forcing a difficult shot from Zach LaVine on the perimeter. The Magic would get their chance. But Robin Lopez had the size advantage over Wesley Iwundu on the block. He easily reached over the box out attempts and scored to put the Bulls up two.
Clifford said after the game before anything else this play was on him. He did not see Robin Lopez on the floor and could not act quick enough to get Nikola Vucevic back in. This was an instance where the coach made a clear error and it cost the team.
It was one of several mistakes the Magic made down the stretch of a close game.
A series of mistakes
There were the missed free throws — 11 missed free throws in 24 attempts for the game and four of eight in the final quarter. That included two misses from 83-percent free-throw shooter D.J. Augustin with 30 seconds left in a tie game (that preceded the Robin Lopez tip in).
There was Aaron Gordon‘s foul miscue on the final possession. He tried too hard to catch up to Lauri Markkanen and fouled him as he landed on his 3-pointer. Markkanen made two of the three free throws to give the Bulls the one-point final margin.
Clifford would also point out the team’s poor third quarter defense where the Bulls scored 38 points. That loss of attention to detail and focus is ultimately what can cost a team any game.
The good news of all this? These are all correctable mistakes.
Friday’s loss was largely out of character for the Magic. And so it could be easy to dismiss as an aberration. That is only if the team returns to its focus and intensity — one it largely displayed throughout the fourth quarter in erasing a seven-point deficit.
Momentum is the next day’s pitcher and the Orlando Magic will need to redouble its efforts in Sunday’s game against the Toronto Raptors to put this game behind it.
The team shoots 78.1 percent from the foul line for the season, 12th in the league. Clifford is right to believe that the free throw shooting that marred the Magic’s game Friday was an aberration. A lack of legs coming from eight days off.
Then again, the Bulls missed all but one free throws. It is not an excuse. All the games count the same in the end. Orlando dropped the ball at the foul line.
The Magic have built a strong defensive reputation throughout the season. They are ninth in the league in defensive rating giving up 107.8 points per 100 possessions.
The number of games where the Magic have given up 112.2 points per 100 possessions like they did Friday are fewer and fewer. Teams have scored more than 110 points per 100 possessions five times in the last 10 games.
The Magic have been able to withstand some of these poorer defensive performances thanks to some stronger offense. That continued in this game. But defense is ultimately what makes the difference for Orlando. The team will not win many games played in the 110s.
The other little mistakes everyone recognizes too. This was a lack of focus and a lack of execution. And still, the Magic gave themselves a chance to win.
A fourth-quarter revival
Awaking from their slumber, Orlando put on a fourth-quarter comeback that gave the team a chance to win. The Magic held the Bulls to a game-low 21 points in the quarter. Chicago made only 7 of 21 shots and had only that one critical offensive rebound.
The Magic erased a seven-point deficit to start the quarter, making 10 of 19 shots. Their only flaw was that free throw shooting and then those gaffes near the end.
It is discouraging the team lost. Ultimately results matter for a team in a tight Playoff race. There is no getting this one back — or getting back the third quarter where the team let go of the rope. But the Magic did all the right things for most of the game. And it knows it.
The Bulls played well to get the win. But the game still felt like it was more about what the Magic did wrong rather than what the Bulls did right. Orlando with momentary lapses of focus put itself in a position to lose.
Players seemed to recognize that after the game. While Clifford shouldered the blame for that one play first and foremost, everyone else recognized that is not what made the game. It was the missed free throws, something completely within their control. It was the third quarter where the team seemed to sleepwalk through things and struggle defensively.
If the Magic tighten up in the third quarter and make free throws, they walk away with an imperfect win. And that win would be all that mattered in the end.
No reason to panic
One loss is no reason to panic, even against an opponent with a record like the Bulls. The team still needs to find wins where it can and compete with every team.
As it has known throughout the season, the margin for error is small. Lapses in focus for long stretches of time can sink this team even against a team like the Bulls. If anything, the game could have taught the Magic how devastating their focus can be.
That fourth quarter looked like a giant waking from a slumber and storming everything in its path. Against a team like the Bulls, that kind of play can erase about any lead. Orlando will have plenty more games left against teams like Chicago. And if they take the lessons from this game, they should win those.
The team will find out Sunday if Friday’s loss was an example of the All-Star Break lingering or some pattern that is a bit more serious.
The Magic know it was their loss of focus that cost them Friday. This is not a team that can afford to ease back into the games and their schedule. They needed that dose of reality. Now a tougher stretch and a tougher opponent await.
The Magic will have to be locked in now and limit those self-inflicted mistakes.