Stars continue to make Orlando Magic’s life hard

The Orlando Magic found themselves surrounded and at the whims of star shooting from Devin Booker. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
The Orlando Magic found themselves surrounded and at the whims of star shooting from Devin Booker. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

The undermanned Orlando Magic had the game dead to rights. Then once again an offensive star took over and wrested the game from them.

94. 38. 98. 66. Final

The Orlando Magic knew they had a tall task no matter the opponent before they stepped onto the floor Friday night.

This is a team carefully put together with each piece needing to play its role for success at the highest levels. Losing two key players in Aaron Gordon and D.J. Augustin with injuries put the team behind the 8-ball.

Even against a struggling Phoenix Suns team, the Orlando Magic could expect mistakes. The test was going to be whether they could overcome those mistakes and whether they could make up for them with their effort.

For most of the 47 minutes before the end of the game, this was the case. For most of the team’s 39 games this season that fight has been more than present. Even as the team has seemingly underperformed and struggled to find its center, the fight has kept them in plenty of games.

This was a small sign of hope.

But something big is missing. Everyone knows it about this team. And no matter how much fight the Magic have. Their lack of star power is squeezing their late-game execution.

Too often, the difference in the game is quite simply star power.

Devin Booker scored six straight points in the final minute to erase the Magic’s carefully crafted four-point lead. Everything unraveled from there. And Orlando’s already small margin for error only made each mistake seem worse.

They had no response. All the fight in the world cannot replace good, old-fashioned shot-making.

The fight near the finish

Time after time, gutsy wins and impressive performances become imperiled at the feet of teams with players who can get that look in their eye and deliver a win. Still late in games, with the pressure ramping up, the Magic start to look more ragged and fail to execute to hold teams off.

Orlando was fine until that final minute. Nikola Vucevic hit a 3-pointer to give the Magic a one-point lead. Then another to give them a four-point lead. It was poise and calm and the Magic seemed on their way to a win.

Then Booker took over. He came around a screen to hit a contested 3-pointer to bring the deficit back to within one. The Magic then seemed to lose their cool in some way.

Markelle Fultz made a rookie mistake, driving too deep and then trying to whip the ball back to the perimeter. It is never a good idea to save the ball underneath your own basket and the same idea played here. Markelle Fultz’s pass was intercepted and Devin Booker had another 3-pointer to give the Suns the lead.

Orlando’s execution decreased from there. Evan Fournier tried to force-feed the ball to Nikola Vucevic in the post where Devin Booker pulled the chair (or fouled him) and resulted in a turnover. Evan Fournier then tried to draw a foul on a 3-pointer to tie the game and missed badly, not getting the call.

Suddenly everything for the Magic collapsed.

With the injuries to Aaron Gordon and D.J. Augustin — added to the injuries to Jonathan Isaac, Michael Carter-Williams and Al-Farouq Aminu — their ability to compete is what would keep the Magic in the game. Orlando continues to put in strong efforts to give themselves a chance to win.

They fell behind by 11 points early in the third quarter and the defense picked itself up. The Magic scrambled to come back, tightening up defensively. They cut out the fouling. Evan Fournier and Wesley Iwundu became attached to Devin Booker’s hip, giving him little space to get his shot up.

They closed out and forced the Suns to wait a beat. This was the Magic’s defense at its best. The effort and the attention to detail turned the Magic back into a behemoth. In fact, Orlando held Phoenix to 40 points in the second half and 98.9 points per 100 possessions. This an undermanned Magic team holding off the No. 12 offense in the league.

Even with all the injuries the Magic are facing, they are more than capable of winning these games. And that is what happened in the final minute especially mattered so much.

Repeated star performances

This is not the first time the team has seen this happen. They have seen star players take over games at the end of games and threaten the Magic.

Trae Young torched the Magic for 39 points including a banked-in 3-pointer to ice the game in the second game of the season. Nikola Jokic hit a wrong-legged jumper over Nikola Vucevic in the Denver Nuggets’ win over the Orlando Magic in early November.

It was Bradley Beal scoring 34 points to erase a late 15-point deficit for the Washington Wizards and bring them within one possession in the dying moments of that game in mid-November. Donovan Mitchell dominated the end of the Utah Jazz’s 109-102 win over the Orlando Magic in mid-December.

Joel Embiid scored 24 points and hit three 3-pointers in the final two minutes to turn a comfortable-seeming win into a one-point sweat-filled finish against the Philadelphia 76ers.

Booker is really only the latest of All-Star-caliber players to push the Magic to the end. And, as you can see, a star late in games has been enough to defeat them on several occasions.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

The Suns’ star player stepped up to the plate Friday. The Magic’s star players seemingly were forcing everything trying to make up this ground. Everything in that final minute felt rushed and indecisive. Orlando was back to trying too hard to make things happen rather than simply playing.

That was the case in many of those other games too. It took some plays to rescue Orlando. But otherwise, the team looked rushed in the final moments with the game on the line.

Orlando, as every team will, has had its moments late in games. Fultz had his big steal and dunk to finish off the Wizards in that game in mid-November. He helped put the finishing touches with a mid-fourth-quarter run earlier this week to defeat the Brooklyn Nets.

The Magic have had their share of close wins — they are 7-11 in games within five points in the final five minutes of the game, according to, the ninth-fewest close games in the league. But even those looked shaky. Think about how much trouble the Orlando Magic had closing out the Golden State Warriors at home, winning only when Glenn Robinson III’s open three fell no good.

Nearing the midway point of the season, there is not exactly a triumphant “clutch” moment for this team yet. The Fultz steal and dunk is probably the closest thing the team has so far.

This last piece to close out games and put opponents away is still clearly something that haunts this team — regardless of who is healthy.

This year’s team has shown plenty of fight. They are a tough out at the very least. And with all the injuries they have faced, they proved that yet again.

Next. Grades: Phoenix Suns 98, Orlando Magic 94. dark

What this team has not proven yet is its ability to finish. It has not proven it can dig down and get stops to snuff out the fire that some of the best scorers in the league can light.