Orlando Magic can blame themselves for deep Playoff hole

The Orlando Magic struggled to deal with the Milwaukee Bucks' pressure in a Game 3 loss. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
The Orlando Magic struggled to deal with the Milwaukee Bucks' pressure in a Game 3 loss. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic faced a daunting task facing the Milwaukee Bucks in this playoff series. Their own mistakes made that task tougher in a Game 3 loss.

38. Final. 121. 89. 107

After Game 1 in the locker room following a surprise win over the Milwaukee Bucks, Orlando Magic coach Steve Clifford delivered an important lesson to his team to reflect on after doing what many thought was improbable — if not outright impossible.

He told his team an essential belief they would need the rest of the series. It is not about who they face, but how they play.

To defeat the Bucks would be tough, no doubt. They would need to follow a specific gameplan and execute it well. Clifford was not telling his team the opponent did not matter or that the task of winning and advancing in the postseason would be easy.

But the only way to succeed and to win was if they took care of themselves first. Nothing would matter against the Bucks without the Magic playing the way they needed to play.

The blueprint was laid out in Game 1. Intense execution, solid defense and making shots were all part of the equation. Orlando limited Milwaukee’s fast break. The Magic did not turn the ball over excessively — a short run in the third quarter allowed the Bucks back into the game.

Orlando controlled the tempo and did what it had to do.

The Magic expected the Bucks to increase their energy and pressure by Game 2. They knew it would only get more intense and pressured as the series went on. But if the Magic limited their mistakes, competed and executed they would have a chance.

Ultimately, as good as the Bucks are, the Magic controlled how they played. That is all they could control. And that is ultimately what would give them their best chance to win.

Game 3 then, a 121-107 loss that that was much more of a blowout than the final score suggests, was what happens when the Magic make mistakes. This is what happens when they allow life to be easy for the Bucks.

Milwaukee undoubtedly made Orlando’s life hard. But the Magic cannot look to what the Bucks did.

They lost because of their poor reaction to it.

"“They just came out early with a similar defensive intensity and offensive aggressiveness that they came out in the last game,” coach Steve Clifford said after Saturday’s game. “We weren’t ready for it. This starts, and we’ve been talking about this since the first day we knew we were going to play them, we have to compete with them. When you play against a guy like Giannis who is the ultra competitor, you have to compete with them. Until tonight, I feel like we did a good job with that. Tonight we were a step late.”"

And the Bucks will take that step if the team is late on both ends. The margin for error for the Magic is simply too small to have this kind of a deficit and not be sharp.

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The Bucks create pressure. Their defense packs the paint. They do a lot of things that will make it harder to score.

No one is underestimating the challenge the Magic are facing in this series. It is not as simple as rolling the ball out and playing with ease. The sliders are not on “rookie” here.

But the Magic have not helped themselves at all. And in Game 3 specifically, they were imprecise and not in tune with the gameplan.

As Clifford said, the Magic’s defensive mentality was not right from the beginning. Nothing seemed to be in tune all game.

It starts with turnovers.

Orlando turned the ball over 18 times leading to 25 Milwaukee points. Turnovers have been a problem throughout the series, something uncharacteristic of this team. But they rarely led to fast-break opportunities. It did not hurt the Magic.

Most of those turnovers were dead-ball turnovers, giving the Magic the chance to set up their defense.

Game 3 saw things take a turn for the worse. The Bucks scored only 14 fast-break points, but it felt like they were able to get out in transition with ease. The pace quickened in a series that was already the fastest-paced series in the league.

That always played into Milwaukee’s hands even with Orlando’s emphasis on pace.

The focus for the Magic on these turnovers was especially poor, however.

Early on there were simply lazy passes and imprecise execution. The turnovers were less a product of the Bucks’ defensive pressure and more a product of the team’s lack of focus.

Clifford is right to say the team competed in the first two games — even with the loss in Game 2, no one could blame the effort or even the execution. Game 3 was more about the focus the Magic did not have.

They looked overwhelmed.

And the one thing no one can do is give the Bucks’ easy points. When Giannis Antetokounmpo is able to pick off passes and get easy dunks, nobody needs a crowd to create energy.

Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 35 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and dished out seven assists. While Antetokounmpo has put up gaudy stat lines throughout this series, he did not have anything as easy as he did in Game 3.

Antetokounmpo shot worse than 50 percent in the first two games, a sign of the work and thought that went into every play. He had to deal with the wall and a ton of resistance.

In Game 3, he went 12 for 14 with 10-for-10 of those coming right at the rim.

The margin for error for the Magic is too small to handle these mistakes. They are not going to stop Antetokounmpo, but they have to slow him down and make him think. And that simply did not happen.

"“I don’t know how aggressive we were, but they were definitely more aggressive,” Nikola Vucevic said after Game 3. “We just didn’t respond to that. They definitely took it to us. We didn’t respond the right way until the second half. They got into us and didn’t let us run our stuff. Obviously they played very well and deserved to win.”"

Milwaukee was able to live in the paint, driving past Orlando’s guards and dishing to the perimeter. The Magic looked lost.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

They looked just as lost offensively as the ball got stuck on one end of the floor. They were unable to move from side to side or get the Bucks to break their drop coverage.

Vucevic was the only one who could get much of anything going offensively. And everyone just seemed rushed.

Clifford said simply the Magic have to play with more force and aggression. That was a message players seemed to repeat — both coming out of Game 2. They need to play with more intensity.

The series is not over, but the Magic need to match the Bucks’ intensity.

"“We didn’t match the intensity,” Terrence Ross said after Game 3. “They came out with more intensity. In a NBA series and playoff series like this, every game is a different game. We have to figure out a way to come out, get ready for this next one and bring it to them.”"

Getting a second win in this series is not going to be easy. But it is simply impossible if the Magic are not playing at their best. It is simply impossible if the team is not executing at a high level and highly tuned into their game plan.

Clifford’s message still rings true.

For the Magic, it is not about who they play but about how they play. They need to play better and be in a situation where they are not asking themselves what more they could have done.

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Their Game 3 loss was because of their own mistakes. And there is a lot to clean up — effort and precision most of all.