Remember the Orlando Magic for how they played, not how they finished

The Orlando Magic will have their eyes on a return to the playoffs in 2020. (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)
The Orlando Magic will have their eyes on a return to the playoffs in 2020. (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic bowed out of the playoffs on a bit of a whimper. But that is not how anyone will remember them. They took fans on a great ride.

On the first play of the game, the Orlando Magic saw a little bit of daylight against this Toronto Raptors team. D.J. Augustin slipped a pocket pass to Nikola Vucevic on a short roll to inside the 3-point line. Marc Gasol had drawn enough to create the space for an open shot.

This was the tried and true play for the Magic all year. This was the formula for success. Run pick and rolls and use Nikola Vucevic’s shooting ability to stretch the defense thin. His passing would then open everything else up and the team would use that as their fulcrum.

Vucevic turned to face the basket and shoot. The shot rimmed out. As it seemingly has all series. And the team seemed to deflate a little bit.

The other part the Magic came to count on throughout the season soon fell apart too. The Magic’s defense was tough and long all year long. They collapsed the paint and forced teams to make difficult kick out passes. They challenged shots at the rim and got after teams.

They may not have overwhelmed anyone with their individual defensive talents, but they were relentless with their effort. Orlando was a team no one wanted to play.

But the Raptors again landed the first blow. From the time Kyle Lowry swung into the lane free for a layup to the time Kawhi Leonard just hit every 3-pointer he seemingly took. Toronto was up 9-1 before Orlando could blink, up 24 even faster in the first quarter. And the game was already seemingly out of reach.

Try as the Magic might there was no getting back up. The shots would not fall. And it was easy to see the team let go of the rope. It was easy to see the team recognize the season was over. Frustration was only growing from there.

Both Nikola Vucevic and Aaron Gordon picked up three fouls in the first half just trying to force something to happen for their team. They were going to try to fight even if that fight was not always directed in the right way.

That is not who this team was. The team that limped to the finish of this series, struggling to find an offense that would work and eventually a defense that gave up points too easily as they scrambled to stop the Raptors many weapons, that is not who this team is.

It is not how anyone should remember this group.

An unforgettable run

A team that rose from 20-31 to reach the playoffs, finishing with a 22-9 record to reach their first playoff berth in seven years. A team that, as inconsequential as it sounds, won the Southeast Division.

A team that put to rest thoughts that this group could not produce a winner or a top-10 defense. A team that defied all the odds the entire season.

Whenever anyone wanted to bury the Magic, they responded with a resolve no one had seen from this group before. The most important thing coach Steve Clifford created was a sense of belief they could win any game they were in. There was no deficit too big to overcome and no game they could not take.

It was easy to buy into that belief. Orlando kept up its hot play in Game 1 where D.J. Augustin dominated on the inside and drained the go-ahead 3-pointer with five seconds left. It felt like the Magic showed they belonged that night and they were not some fluky Eastern Conference playoff entrant.

That part still remains true. The Raptors are really good. That loss seemed to wake the beast. And slowly but surely the Raptors tore apart the Magic.

Clifford described it best after the game. The Magic started at a high level and he counted on them to raise their defensive intensity as each game played out. They never could find that extra gear. Not in the same way as Toronto did.

Clifford said the Raptors raised their offensive level and defensive level with each game. Orlando simply could not answer, unable to find space offensive or create any kind of rhythm.

All the mojo and confidence the team built up in those final weeks of the season dissipated. That is what running into the buzzsaw of a championship contender as a seventh-seed can do. The Raptors were the far better team. Probably even better than anyone could expect.

The Magic could prove themselves difficult to break down. But as the series evolved, the Raptors figured them out and won every individual matchup. That is a lesson learned for the Magic as they break for the summer and look to improve their own games. As they begin to prepare to work their way back.

A legacy written

But that is not what anyone should remember about this team. That is not this team’s legacy.

Nobody remembers — or cares — the Heart & Hustle team of 2000 missed the playoffs by a game, losing to the eighth-seeded Milwaukee Bucks in the penultimate game to get eliminated. That is still one of the most beloved teams in franchise history. Darrell Armstrong and Bo Outlaw are forever heroes.

And as time goes by and the immediate pain of the end of this season passes, this team too may take on that legendary status. This was a team that fans connect too, buying in as the team made its incredible run. Magic fans were everywhere in downtown Orlando during the playoffs. There was a palpable buzz about the team.

That is what everyone will remember.

Evan Fournier sat in his locker after the game and said this was a special group to be around. Nobody really knows what the future holds for this team. There are some major questions for the team to answer in the offseason — including the free agency of All-Star center Vucevic.

There is a question of whether this is the final time this group will get this chance and how the Magic will move forward with this success in their back pocket.

That was on no one’s mind after the game it seemed. The players recognized they accomplished a lot this season, but the foul taste of a blowout defeat still stung them.

A foul taste to feed the offseason

Clifford was not ready to discuss anything about the season. Only his disappointment the team could not find that playoff gear in the series and got routed so handily. He is a competitor and someone who changed the culture with this team for this exact reason.

He was not going to celebrate anything after the team suffered this kind of a defeat. When a team is in the battle and everything seems possible there is disappointment in defeat.

Losing hurts again for this franchise.

But we can certainly reflect on what this team did this year. They reignited the Magic again. They brought playoff basketball back and there is no reason to believe they will go another six or seven years without their next playoff start.

It feels like things are just starting for this group again.

The team that finished the season in Toronto is not the team anyone will remember this season. That team was an inexperienced group that will surely be hungry to make good what they learned next season.

This team has changed a lot for the Orlando Magic. The expectations for the franchise and for the team is completely different now. What is possible is different.

Next. Grades: Game 5 -- Toronto Raptors 115, Orlando Magic 96. dark

That is what we will remember about this team. Failure should leave them hungry to build off the foundation they built this year.