D.J. Augustin and the Orlando Magic spent the entire season overlooked and doubted. After Game 1, they both showed just what they can do.
D.J. Augustin rarely shows much emotion on the floor. If anything, a big part of his role for the Orlando Magic is to keep the team level and find the right player and right play to get the team moving again. His job in many ways is to facilitate and be a barometer for the team.
His calm demeanor is meant to keep the team on track before he recedes for other players to take over late.
This was never supposed to be his moment. Even within that role, he was supposed to be overlooked and a weakness. The Magic had the worst point guard situation in the league and the worst point guard in the league.
If anyone was supposed to prevent the Magic from even reaching their modest expectations it was D.J. Augustin. Even as the Orlando Magic have played themselves into the playoffs and started this first-round series with the Toronto Raptors, Augustin faces doubts.
His team has faced doubts all year. No one could blame the Magic for having a bit of a chip on their shoulder at this point. When asked about playing in front of a national audience for really the first time, Augustin said the team has been doubted all season and they just kept believing in each other.
After Game 1, let there be no more doubt for either the Magic or their point guard. They are both here to play and they both belong.
It was Augustin who led the charge for the Magic throughout the game, helping this inexperienced playoff team keep their calm and their poise.
With Kawhi Leonard bearing down on the Magic in the final minutes of the game — he hit a go-ahead 3-pointer and then a tough fade-away jumper over Aaron Gordon with a minute to play to retake the lead — the Magic had to answer and turn somewhere. This is a team without a superstar and at times in its first playoff game looked nervy.
But Augustin has always been a source of calm and poise for the team. With Danny Green hounding him throughout the second half, he had to break free and find a way. Answering Leonard, Augustin got around a pick and roll toward the middle of the floor and darted into the lane to hit a tough layup over a late-reacting defense.
Then came the final play. A play that will live forever in the annals of Magic moments.
After the team’s first two options were covered from Toronto’s switching, Augustin stared down Leonard with time ticking away. He called for a pick and roll with Nikola Vucevic and saw Kawhi Leonard dip under the screen. Marc Gasol failed to step up and D.J. Augustin buried a cold-blooded three.
It was only then the emotions came out. Augustin pumped his fists and strutted down the court before Evan Fournier grabbed him in a massive bear hug, screaming in his face in celebration. The crowd at Scotiabank Arena silenced and even with three seconds remaining, the Raptors fans knew they were in for a new battle.
In this game, it had to be Augustin who provided the team its center in these critical moments.
Orlando’s defense was on point for most of the game but the offense seemed stuck in the mud especially early. The Magic missed some easy shots early on and definitely looked a bit tight.
But Augustin scored 19 of his 25 points in the first half, including 10 in a critical second-quarter run that helped the Magic open up as much as a 16-point lead. If Augustin has done anything this year it is to provide this semblance of balance and poise offensively.
The Magic’s offense is no world beater by any means, but it operates well enough for the team to have a chance to win every game. Augustin’s direction and leadership are definitely a part of that.
That kind of quiet leadership has flown as much under the radar as the Magic have this season. It is clear watching this team how critical Augustin can be.
During the regular season, Augustin averaged 11.7 points per game while shooting a 56.6 percent effective field goal percentage. Perhaps more importantly, the Magic had a +3.5 net rating with him on the floor. Only Nikola Vucevic and Michael Carter-Williams had a better on-court net rating among rotation players.
With Augustin off the court this year, the Magic posted a -2.8 net rating. The Magic were only worse with Vucevic off the floor. And those numbers likely softened with Michael Carter-Williams’ arrival and brilliant play.
But in the heat of the playoff battle, Augustin was the one pacing the team and guiding them through those difficult stretches. It was him the team turned to and found their center.
This is what a good point guard does at the end. The Raptors got some of that too.
It might be easy to laugh at Kyle Lowry‘s poor 0-for-7 shooting performance, but he still had seven rebounds and eight assists, doing a good job keeping the Magic off balance throughout the game. There was a reason he had a team-high +11 for the game.
But Augustin was the one who stepped up late in the game. He stepped up throughout the game.
For a team that prides itself on keeping an even-keel and fighting back from deficits it is Augustin that is the center of this. The way he plays and patiently probes a defense and keeps his cool (for the most part) is an embodiment of who this team is.
The Magic will need that patience again in Game 2. To be sure, the next game will be a much different animal.
And now all eyes are on the Magic and on Augustin. Game 1 showed how good Orlando can be and that it can compete in this series. It showed Augustin can manage and lead this team. And the Raptors gave Augustin that respect by switching Green onto him in the second half.
That move completely changed the game for the Raptors. The Magic’s offense bogged down in the second half — Augustin had a team-best 100.0 offensive rating while on the floor in the second half — and that was in part because Green was able to take Augustin and the offense out of its rhythm.
But for Saturday, the Magic stood tall. And no one stood taller than Augustin.
They showed the NBA world just what has been building in Orlando during the last half of the season. They demanded attention and earned respect.
There will be no more overlooking this team. And if the Magic want to advance further, Augustin will play a major role in getting them through it.