The Orlando Magic again found themselves down big after the first quarter and were unable to recover against one of the Eastern Conference’s best teams.
It was another first quarter where the Orlando Magic’s opponent managed to double their points. A slow start for the Magic put them behind a quality opponent and chasing the lead against a team designed to prevent those comebacks.
The only thing the Magic seemed like they would win was the tip-off.
After coach Steve Clifford called out the Orlando Magic for an “unacceptable” and “mindless” effort in a loss to the Indiana Pacers, everyone expected the Magic to burst through the gate. They might have played with more energy and intensity.
They might have done that, but that did not mean any different results. But after going 0 for 9 on 3-point shooting and just 5 for 20 from the floor overall, the Magic slumped to a 26-11 deficit after the first quarter. Four of the five starters missing at least one from behind the arc.
A 15-point deficit against the Toronto Raptors is a tall order with their length, size and defensive acuity. The Raptors built as much as a 24-point lead and never trailed in a 109-99 win at Disney’s Wide World of Sports.
Orlando seemed to settle into a lull throughout much of the first half and into the second half. They seemed like they had accepted another loss to their potential playoff opponent and another quality team. Toronto’s suffocating defensive scheme and the Magic’s inability to create a steady offense spelled a season-low 35 points going into halftime, while turning
over the ball nine times.
Orlando did not give up the ship. The team clawed itself back into the game slowly but surely. The Magic cut the deficit to as low as seven points early in the fourth quarter. The team had a change to complete an improbable comeback.
But Toronto was able to keep Orlando at arm’s length. The Magic would get no closer and could not string together enough good play to get over the top.
Making matters more complicated, Aaron Gordon went down with a nasty fall late in the third quarter.
Aaron Gordon went up to the rim in the half-court, only to get hit by Kyle Lowry. He fell awkwardly and left the game with left hamstring tightness.
The potential loss of Gordon for even a short time does not bode well for Orlando. The Magic were already struggling for depth at the power forward slot. Gordon missing considerable time would only serve to exacerbate that problem.
The resultant flagrant seemed to jolt the Magic and a renewed energy managed to cut the Raptors’ lead to 10 points, with the third quarter finishing 68-78. Heading into the last quarter the Magic seemed to have an outside shot of coming back to win this game.
The fourth started off with both teams exchanging baskets and the gap between the teams staying consistently near 10 points. The Magic had many chances to cut down that lead but continued lapses in shooting meant they were never able to do so.
Orlando shot only 40.2 percent from the floor. The Magic’s offensive rating was worse than one point per possession.
A crowning moment that summed up the night was when Terrence Ross missed a wide-open look from downtown which was then rebounded by D.J. Augustin and kicked to Evan Fournier for another open look, which subsequently rimmed out.
Another bad shooting night and another bad first quarter seemed to bite the Magic again. Their play could have sent a message to a probable first-round opponent, but it ended up showing this team could lack drive when it matters most.
Even though Orlando may have proved they could hang with the top of the East they only did so for three quarters and that is what cost them the game. Another injury may also deplete the already stretched squad so close before the playoffs.
AARON GORDONF, Orlando Magic
A strong start to the second half set the tone for the way the Magic would end the game and without him on the court for those 20 minutes, the scoreline could have been much, much worse. Gordon scored nine points and grabbed 11 rebounds, showing his activity. He did a great job on Pascal Siakam too, forcing seven turnovers and 5-for-12 shooting.
After being fouled by Kyle Lowry, Aaron Gordon had to leave the game due to resultant hamstring tightness, but he did not do so before sinking a free-throw and making a driving shot at the basket. It remains to be seen how the Magic will fill in for him if he has to sit out due to medical reasons, but the Magic will need him going forward as they already struggle for depth at his position.
NIKOLA VUCEVICC, Orlando Magic
concerning. The Orlando Magic need to extract more from their star player, who just did not show up today. Not at a star level anyway as Marc Gasol again made life difficult inside for him.
Nikola Vucevic did not have a good game, and like in the playoffs last year, the star struggled against a Toronto Raptors defense that always plays him tough. At times he was crowded out near the basket and on the post. He has to do better finding his teammates in such situations, and it definitely did not help that their 3-pointers were not falling either.
He ended the game well below his season average with 12 points after going 40 percent from the field. He did a decent job flashing to the middle and getting the ball moving during that second-half run. Orlando could run things through him. But they need his scoring.
JAMES ENNISG/F, Orlando Magic
However, the Raptors were more than content to let him shoot from beyond the arc. He was the guy they left open to rotate and trap Magic ballhandlers. Ennis’ drives were also a bit wild, he made just four of his 12 shots.
His help on the other side of the floor was pivotal in preventing Toronto from running away with the game as well. Oftentimes, his contributions go unnoticed, but he does bring some much -needed depth to an injury-ravaged Orlando frontcourt. Ennis could be a key player in a potential playoff series for this reason.
EVAN FOURNIERG/F, Orlando Magic
With the Orlando Magic already lacking outside shooting, Fournier needed to step up and was one of many Magic players who failed to do so. His figures of 3-for-9 from the field and 2-for-6 from deep are not indicative of what he can produce and his team will need him to reach peak form before the playoffs get going.
That is part of the issue with Fournier it seems. He said after the game that his legs are not where he wants them or need to be at this point. He has needed more time to get his rhythm back than others. Despite strong showings against the Brooklyn Nets and Sacramento Kings, Fournier is struggling to provide the shooting that has kept this Orlando Magic team afloat.
TORONTO RAPTORS49-18, 2nd East
Apart from keeping Orlando down double digits, Toronto found ways to consistently get going on the other side of the floor. The Raptors had six players get double-digit scoring figures and had their points spread across all their players. Fred VanVleet led with a team-high of 21 points and Norman Powell went for 14 off the bench. The Raptors ended with shooting marks that were 8.5 percentage points better from the field and 10 percentage points better from three, and this supremely better efficiency combined with their lethal defending ended up getting them the win.
Despite all this, the Raptors were likely a bit frustrated with their play. Pascal Siakam went 5 for 12 from the floor and had seven turnovers. Toronto turned the ball over 15 times, something Orlando failed to take advantage of. It was a sloppy game with the Raptors allowing the Magic to hang around too long.
The Orlando Magic are now 32-37 and trail the Brooklyn Nets by one-half game for the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference. The Orlando Magic will clinch a playoff berth with one more win or one more Washington Wizards loss.