Orlando Magic must stick to their identity as playoff series gets tougher

Jonathan Isaac's size proved a solid deterrent during the playoff series for the Orlando Magic. (Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images)
Jonathan Isaac's size proved a solid deterrent during the playoff series for the Orlando Magic. (Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic committed some cardinal sins as Game 3 came to a close. Down 2-1 now, the Magic must stay true to who they are to claw their way back.

Orlando Magic coach Steve Clifford has told his team over and over again his team needs to play to their style and do the things they know they have to do to win. When they do that, they are a very good team and can beat other very good teams.

There is a checklist of things the Magic have to do.

They have to rebound well and limit opponents to one shot. They have to get back on defense and prevent fast breaks, protecting the ball on their end. They have to defend and keep the ball out of the middle. They have to move and share the ball.

There are plenty more things the Magic know they must accomplish. But when things are at their worst or things are at their best, this is what the Magic must rely on. When they do these things, anything seems possible for this group it seems.

When they do not do them, their deficiencies become much more glaring. Their individual weaknesses become apparent.

And in the playoffs, even momentary lapses can prove costly.

With Orlando trailing by three late in the fourth quarter, Aaron Gordon got Kawhi Leonard to take a tough step-back jumper. It bounced off the rim and out and the ball was hurtling toward three Magic players surrounding it. The Magic through all their failings and struggles would have a chance to tie the game and force overtime.

Then Kyle Lowry snuck in.

Just as the Toronto Raptors had done on at least two other possessions. The Magic broke one of their cardinal rules and gave up the offensive rebound. That forced the Magic to foul and ended their hopes of stealing Game 3 in a 98-93 defeat at the Amway Center on Friday.

This kind of play was simply inexcusable and among the many regrets the team has as they conceded homecourt advantage. And it is now more than ever the Magic have to remember what got them to this point and find a way to check off those must-do items if they want to win.

"“Well obviously, we feel like we could have won the game,” Nikola Vucevic said. “We did a better job tonight on Kawhi, but they have a lot of other good players on their team. [Pascal] Siakam had a great game. But I think mainly, our rebounding wasn’t where it needs to be. That hurt us a lot, gave them some second-chance points and then our turnovers.”"

Marking off the checklist

It is true the Magic have done many of those things they need to do consistently. Even in Game 3, the team played like it needed to for long stretches.

Orlando finished the season second in the league in defensive rebound rate. Giving up those critical offensive rebounds was uncharacteristic of the team in so many ways. As were the turnovers — their 15.3 percent turnover rate was 11th in the league but their 17.0 percent turnover rate in this game and in this series is proving especially troubling.

On top of that, Orlando’s passing has been poor this series. The Magic had 19 assists in Game 1, 17 in Game 2 and 19 again in Game 3. Orlando relies heavily on passing to set up its offense and have simply found it difficult to complete even simple ball reversals.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

The Raptors have tested every bit of the Magic and their commitment to themselves. They have pressured and hurried the Magic, forcing them into one-on-one play and unfamiliar areas of the floor on their own. Orlando’s spacing has been poor and you can see players doubting themselves some.

"“We’ve just got to get off to a better start,” Aaron Gordon said. “We have a way of playing and we aren’t doing it at the beginning of the games. We’re trying to play our way into games. That’s not the way it’s going to work with a team like that. We have to play our game from start to finish. When we do that we’re good. When we do that Sunday, I believe we’ll win.”"

The Raptors put the screws on the Magic again early on. Nikola Vucevic committed five turnovers early on as they pulled the chair on him and Marc Gasol used his reach and timing to contain and deflect passes around the perimeter.

Orlando again had trouble breaking free from the defense and were forced to settle for tough 3-pointers. There was clearly a thought that pressure was about to come which rushed the team and slowed ball movement to the next man.

The Magic had to fight back all of that and recommit to who they are, finding a way to execute in the way they know they can.

Signs for hope

It was not all bad. The Magic were more determined not to let these momentary frustrations slow them down.

Orlando certainly found its defensive groove in this game. The Raptors shot just 44.8 percent from the floor an got to the foul line for only 10 attempts. Leonard followed up his 37-point performance with just 16 points on 5-for-19 shooting as Orlando swarmed him better and forced him from getting into the paint.

The commitment on Leonard opened other things up for the Raptors. They found space to cut along the baseline and took more corner threes than usual. Pascal Siakam found mismatches and attacked the paint with abandon.

There is something Orlando has to give up and it is more about scrambling to contest and make those opportunities harder.

Never quitting the fight

That too is part of who this Magic team is. And that is another part they are not leaving off.

light. Related Story. Orlando Magic get reminder of how good they can be

Orlando gave up a 16-0 run in the third quarter after taking a one-point lead. The team trailed by 12 with four minutes left. And the Magic still kept up their fight. They still kept pushing and clawing their way back in. Facing a team that had the clamps on them for much of the night — and this series — they kept searching for every inch they could get.

If there is one thing everyone knows about this group and this team, it is that they will keep fighting to the end.

"“We’re never going to quit,” Jonathan Isaac said. “We’re going to play every game and every possession like it matters. That’s how we have been the entire season. Just stay with it. Tonight we didn’t get the break. We didn’t make enough plays. We have another game Sunday to bring that effort.”"

The team has not been perfect this series at all. Toronto has forced Orlando into tough shots and out of its offense. The Magic have played strong defense when they get set, but that has been rarer and rarer this series.

Orlando has to do a better job valuing possessions and playing with high intensity for longer. Too often the Magic seem frustrated and flustered, unsure of where to be or where to go next. Then they will scramble and be in the right spot.

It is true though that the playoffs demand more precision and execution than the regular season. This Magic team has had trouble reaching that level in the postseason.

And the Raptors have made them pay.

"“Handling disappointment is a huge part of NBA basketball and is a bigger part of playoff basketball,” Clifford said. “You have to feel like you were kicked in the teeth, which we did. We are long one rebound away from having a chance to tie the game. That’s the way it is. If we can’t get past that, we don’t deserve to win.”"

The game can turn on those little possessions. It is those momentary lapses that win or lose ballgames now.

The playoffs create adversity and force teams to dig down deeper. It is the teams that stay committed to what they do best that ultimately come out on top.

Orlando found that in the second half to get itself back in the game. But those missed rebounds and those turnovers and those times the ball get stuck cut against the Magic’s identity and who they are.

Next. Grades: Toronto Raptors 98, Orlando Magic 93. dark

This is the part they need to rely on most as they fight for their lives in Game 4.