Orlando Magic’s margin for error is too small for poor starts

The Orlando Magic were knocked out of sorts offensively early and never truly recovered in a Game 2 loss. (Photo by Ashley Landis - Pool/Getty Images)
The Orlando Magic were knocked out of sorts offensively early and never truly recovered in a Game 2 loss. (Photo by Ashley Landis - Pool/Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic’s hot start in Game 1 propelled them to a win. Similarly, their poor shooting early in Game 2 doomed them before the game started.

Final. 96. 38. 111. 89

Listen to Steve Clifford talk about this series with the Milwaukee Bucks. He will inevitably say the way the Orlando Magic start will be vitally important. This is not a fourth-quarter league.

This is a first-quarter league. And playing from ahead is much better than playing from behind.

Clifford is a great motivator, getting his team to believe in themselves and play above their weight class in many ways. His message after Game 1 was it is not who you play, but how you play.

That was always at the center of the Magic’s gameplan for the Bucks. They knew the focus had to be on themselves first before they could even worry about them. If they did not play well, they would have no chance. Everything, especially in the playoffs starts there. It all builds up.

The Magic understood it was the simple acts that would determine whether they would have a chance to win in this series. They understood that it had to start from the beginning.

But on a base level too, the Magic understood they had to make shots to succeed. And they had to do it early. Playing from behind was not an option and they had to show they mean business from the start, or else they would have to crack the best defense in the league with the pressure of playing catch-up.

It was among the tall orders this Magic team faced. An order Clifford acknowledged as part of the formula. Something so simple but something hardly guaranteed against the Bucks.

What happens when the Magic do not make shots? What happens when they go cold? What happens when they do not get off to that hot start?

That is where the team sees its margin of error narrow.

As the Magic break down where things went wrong in their 111-96 loss in Game 2 on Thursday, they will inevitably start with the poor shooting. A 3-for-24 shooting (1 for 11 from beyond the arc) performance that put the team in a deep hole.

That hole that grew to as much as 23 points and got as little as nine after that point. But a hole nonetheless the Magic could not solve or get out of.

The Bucks certainly had a lot to do with that. They were more physical on the ball, disrupting dribble handoffs and a lot of the first actions the Magic tried to initiate. They switched on Nikola Vucevic on any screen, allowing Brook Lopez to settle into his drop coverage while suffocating the outlet the Magic tore up the Bucks with in Game 1.

The ball often got stuck on one side of the floor unable to get to the other side. The team settled for quick shots.

But to be that historically bad also takes some bad luck too. Orlando missed its share of bad shots. And the continual missing only added to the pressure. The team was clearly pressing as it tried to keep in contact.

"“I think that we were so hot in the first game, that we were trying to recapture that a little bit,” Terrence Ross said after Game 2 on Thursday. “We didn’t let the ball flow from side to side and make the defense move. That was on us. They came out playing a lot better. We know what to expect now. We know they are going to come out and do this.”"

This was a far cry from the start the Magic had in Game 1. It is safe to say that staking that 10-point lead in the first quarter set the table for everything else the Magic did in that victory.

More from Orlando Magic Daily

Orlando outscored Milwaukee 33-23 in the quarter and shot 63.6-percent from the floor including going 5 for 11 on 3-pointers. The Magic’s confidence built from that first quarter.

They probably believed they could win the game at that point, but the first quarter really locked them in. They came out flying with energy and passion as they executed their gameplan and caught the Bucks flat-footed.

Thursday was Orlando’s turn to feel the energy deficit. The Bucks were pressuring the ball a lot more and able to disrupt the Magic’s offense. Orlando was not able to generate quality shots, although there were still plenty of open looks they missed.

The Magic’s defense was game for most of the first quarter. Milwaukee did not fare much better, leading 25-13 after one quarter. Orlando was still able to force some misses and wall off the paint to limit Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Both teams were largely taking the shots the other defense wanted them to take.

This time around, the Magic missed.

"“They were definitely more aggressive,” Nikola Vucevic said after Thursday’s Game 2. “They got into the ball more. I still think we had good looks. There were times where we had good looks but we could have moved the ball and gotten better looks. It’s hard to beat Milwaukee when you score only 13 points in a quarter. We were still able to generate good looks for ourselves.”"

That was merely the first domino to fall.

As often happens, when shots do not fall, the defense starts to slip. And it was easy to see the team growing frustrated — taking more rushed shots and losing some of their defensive discipline.

That is the part that probably eats at the team the most.

Clifford, coming from the Van Gundy tree of a make-or-miss-league, was less focused on his team’s offensive shortcomings or struggles and more focused on the things they could control.

He was upset with the team’s rebounding once again. The Bucks recorded 11 offensive rebounds for 17 second-chance points. They had four offensive boards for seven points in the first quarter. That certainly helped set a tone.

More from Analysis

Mistakes become amplified when a team is not scoring. And that seemed to bring out a lot of the Magic’s inherent flaws.

The team can fight and give it the best shot. But the plain fact is the Magic will struggle to keep up without hitting shots. It puts too much pressure on other areas of the team.

The Bucks were hardly perfect. They committed 21 turnovers for 16 points off turnovers. The Magic can certainly point to points and opportunities they left on the board.

The only thing that kept Milwaukee from blowing the game completely open was Orlando’s ability to draw fouls. The Magic took 31 free throws, making 27.

Playing from behind was clearly a big task for this team. The Magic were not able to plug all the holes with this big one taking on water.

It is a credit the Magic stayed in the game as much as they did.

“It’s hard when you play a team of this caliber and you dig yourself a hole early,” Clifford said after Thursday’s game. “You have to put in some much effort working your way back into the game. The guys were terrific positive even afterward int the locker room. I’m not really worried about that.”

In the end, the Magic know this is just one game. There were encouraging signs and things the team can control. The mood it seems was a recognition of their mistakes and adjustments they have to make.

Orlando still did enough to give itself a chance.

But the margin for error is still so incredibly small. Losing the first quarter like this and being unable to make shots is a simple fix that is actually quite complicated.

Next. Orlando Magic are confident, but work remains. dark

Orlando was nearly perfect to start Game 1. Game 2 should make it clear that any little slip early can present major problems for the Magic.