Orlando Magic fall short of latest playoff test, lose seventh seed too

The Orlando Magic held the lead against the Boston Celtics late, but their own mistakes cost them as they failed another playoff test. (Photo by Kim Klement-Pool/Getty Images)
The Orlando Magic held the lead against the Boston Celtics late, but their own mistakes cost them as they failed another playoff test. (Photo by Kim Klement-Pool/Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic had a chance to secure a big win and stay afloat in the race for seventh. Instead, the team gave the lead away and failed a playoff test.

18. Final/OT. 119. 38. 122

With Evan Fournier, Aaron Gordon and Michael Carter-Williams out of the lineup, the Orlando Magic were shorthanded and down two of their top three scorers. That does not mean a game is over. Teams always find a way to rally and, as coach Steve Clifford likes to say, these are all NBA players. You cannot take anyone lightly.

Just ask the Brooklyn Nets.

The two teams fighting for the Eastern Conference’s seventh seed understand that down all that firepower, the margin for error decreases but the opportunity remains. The team has to be sharper and take care of the details. Not to mention make shots. But anything can happen.

The Brooklyn Nets took control of the race for the seventh seed with a shocking win over the Milwaukee Bucks earlier in the week.

Orlando put itself in that position Sunday to topple a top team. Unlike the Brooklyn Nets, who would later defeat the LA Clippers clinching the seventh-seed in the East, the Orlando Magic would not deliver that critical knockout blow.

Orlando saw another chance to keep up slip through its fingers. Another chance to score that signature win. Instead, the reward is a date with the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks when the playoffs begin next Monday.

The Magic had a five-point lead with 40 seconds left. And that is when things started to fall apart.

Orlando got a stop on a missed 3-pointer from Marcus Smart. But nobody boxed out Daniel Theis. The ball came long and Theis grabbed the board and kicked it out to Jayson Tatum. Tatum pump-faked to get by Gary Clark and drained a three.

D.J. Augustin made a poor decision at the rim, giving the Celtics the chance to tie the game and force overtime. Jayson Tatum did not miss, spinning past Markelle Fultz for a jumper.

In a flash, the Magic had lost their five-point lead and they could only look to themselves. They would lose in overtime 122-119 in overtime as fouling and more missed assignments cost them the chance at a critical victory.

This is not how a team needs to execute to finish. When things get tough and attention narrows, this is not going to get the job done.

Playoffs on the horizon

Playoff basketball is coming.

The Orlando Magic have repeatedly said their goal is to be playing in a manner where they could make an impact in the playoffs, even against the Eastern Conference’s elite. The goal now is to get themselves ready for that — sitting out players is in part an effort to be at full health for that series.

Even without those players, that means going through some of these situations and playing Playoff-level basketball.

If this week showed anything, it is how far the Magic have to go. If Sunday showed anything, it is that Orlando is still not playoff-ready. And with the intensity raised the Magic did not respond well.

They did not play their game and allowed their opponent to take it to them. They made mistake after mistake and failed to make the plays to win.

"“I think that was more on our half as a team being ready and playing our game again,” Markelle Fultz said after Sunday’s game. “Not letting them slow us down. They switched up the defense and slowed us down. We have to be more prepared and come out and execute.”"

At this point, everyone has to question whether this team will get there. Because it is the simple things keeping the Magic from reaching that level repeatedly.

Steve Clifford said it was the team’s effort that cost the team Sunday’s game. He pointed to that missed block out and rebound for leaving the door open for the Celtics to take the game. Boston had 13 offensive rebounds for 17 second-chance points. They all seemed to come at critical times.

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He also pointed to the team’s high fouling for a second straight game as the team struggled in the fourth quarter. Orlando had 25 fouls leading to 24 free throw attempts. Four of those fouls for seven free throw attempts occurred in overtime.

These mistakes matter. They are free points given to their opponents. Free points a team like the Magic cannot give up.

"“We did some good things,” coach Steve Clifford said after the game Sunday. “That’s not near for our talent level in terms of discipline, intensity and finishing plays what we will have to be at to be a factor in the playoffs. If we say that nights like these are OK, we have totally underestimating what the playoffs are all about and we are not remembering what happened last year after we went up 1-0.”"

That is ultimately what this season has been all about — getting back to the postseason. They have been gearing up and trying to grow from last year’s appearance.

Their play this week had not suggested they are ready to do that — four losses, two in blowout fashion, to four Eastern Conference playoff teams. Orlando finished the season 5-30 against teams with winning records, a sign even Clifford said after practice Saturday was concerning.

The ‘Others’

There were strong efforts Sunday: Gary Clark, Melvin Frazier, James Ennis and Wesley Iwundu were among the players who played well above their averages. The Orlando Magic needed to rely on its depth and it largely came through to give them a chance.

That will come in handy if the team needs them to step in again during the playoffs.

"“That’s something that coach has always talked about since we came into the bubble is having everyone ready,” Fultz said after Sunday’s game. “In order to go deep, we’ve got to have the whole team. I think our guys are staying prepared and staying ready. Tonight was one of those nights where everyone stepped up, but we came up short.”"

This is part of what the team has had to do all season. No one should question its resilience. It is a minor miracle the team stayed afloat enough to secure the final playoff spot.

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Orlando has had to rally and find a way for much of the season with injuries hitting the group hard from the start. Players have had to step up and fill in. That part will always be important for playoff preparation.

But as Shaquille O’Neal likes to say, “the others” can get you to the finish line, but it is still the stars that get you across the line.

Falling short . . . again

That is where Orlando has fallen short the most. This past week has seen the team get blitzed by the Indiana Pacers and Toronto Raptors and failed to recover. They could not close games against the Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics.

Late in both of those games, it was mistake after mistake, poor decision after poor decision from starters that cost the team.

All these little things add up. And especially in a playoff series, those things will come back and hurt them, costing them games and opportunities to win and grow.

Orlando left one on the table at a time of year when teams need to be sharpening up and finding a way no matter who is on the floor.

This was a winnable game — a game the Magic needed — and they failed to rise to the occasion.

There are still playoff battles to come and playoff tests to pass. Orlando has struggled to reach that level. But every day is still a chance to get better.

Next. Orlando Magic did not play their way into playoffs this time. dark

The team has to lock in and be ready for the finish to the seeding round.