The Orlando Magic lost a sixth consecutive game despite a fourth-quarter fight back against the New York Knicks.
A hopeful hurl from three-point range by Terrence Ross with the shot clock counting down had put the Orlando Magic ahead late in the fourth but some poor decisions down the stretch and a strong end from New York means Steve Clifford will be left wondering how he can get this team winning again.
Much of the game lacked quality. At times it was as though both teams were having a competition to see who could shoot the worst, with the low final score telling the tale of what was two poor offensive performances.
But the Magic were faring worse. Shooting problems have plagued the team all season long and this was no different as the team found itself down by 12 at the end of the third. In truth, it could and probably should have been a lot more.
Clifford, though, sensing that there was still an opportunity to bring this dismal losing run to an end opted to go with Aaron Gordon, Nikola Vucevic and Terrence Ross to start the final quarter and it paid off. Without a true point guard on the floor, Gordon was trusted with the ball and drove his team on to bring the score back.
The power forward was doing everything for his team, particularly on the defensive end. He was using his body to close off paths to the basket, challenging at the rim, blocking shots and rebounding. His energy and desire put the Magic back in the fight.
Vucevic, who was outstanding once again and scored his team’s first nine points of the game, continued to hit shots in the fourth whether it was from three-point range or closer to the basket. The Magic’s dependency on the center for offense is enormous but once again he took on the responsibility and delivered.
Even Ross, who did not have his best game, started to contribute in the fourth with seven quick points at the start of the quarter and also hit two huge threes. For a moment it looked as though this dreadful streak was coming to an end.
But having worked so hard to close a 12-point deficit, the glimpse of a win quickly faded away. Ross exited the game for a rest and Clifford opted to go with Khem Birch and Dwayne Bacon which seemed to have a negative impact on the team.
Gordon had been trusted to make the right play with the ball in his hands for most of the fourth quarter but when it came to crunch time, his poor decisions let the team down. An optimistic bail-out pass aimed for Vucevic which resulted in a turnover effectively squashed any hopes of a comeback win and condemned the team to another devastating loss.
The team was not helped by foul trouble either. The Knicks got to the free-throw line way too often, including in the final minutes of the game, and scored 24 points off free-throws to Orlando’s 14.
But despite some encouraging signs toward the end of the game, the wider problems cannot be ignored. Orlando shot just 33.7-percent from the field and missed good look after good look. The only reason this was a close game was because New York endured similar difficulties.
Injuries have meant this team is packed with unreliable shooters getting big minutes. While Evan Fournier’s return should ease these problems slightly, these are extremely worrying times for the Magic.
Nikola Vucevic continued his excellent start to the season by once again playing at an All-Star caliber level. He finished with 24 points and 14 rebounds and was making shots from all over the court, preventing his team from falling too far behind early on by scoring his team’s first nine points. For a team that lacks shooting, Vucevic’s reliability from mid-range and from three is enormous.
He also put in a solid performance on the defensive end. Vucevic is not known for his shot-blocking ability but he finished with two blocks and did well to disrupt New York’s play in the paint, also dealing with the challenge of Mitchell Robinson well. Vucevic certainly cannot be blamed for the team’s shocking run of late and has taken on complete responsibility on offense.
Patience is certainly needed with the rookie point guard and he will need time to grow into the league but Cole Anthony endured a really tough game which saw him make just 2 of his 12 shots, both of which were from 3-point range. Cole Anthony is clearly still developing his game to learn where he can have success but the shot selection he displayed was really poor.
The 20-year-old takes way too many difficult shots including floaters off the dribble which are often nowhere near going in the basket. Orlando Magic fans will be encouraged by the positive flashes of play he has displayed with his speed and ball-handling but his shot selection and shooting have to get better. Ultimately, he has been forced to take on a bigger role than he should have at this stage in his career due to Markelle Fultz’s injury.
Aaron Gordon may have made the wrong decisions late in the game, but the only reason the Magic were in a position where they might have won was because of Gordon’s overall play. He was fantastic defensively and did a great job guarding Julius Randle who made just 5 of his 19 shots. Late in the game, he used his body brilliantly to protect the basket and contributed on the other end with some big buckets, as well as creating for his teammates.
His decision to try a bail-out pass aimed for Nikola Vucevic late on was a bad one and he missed at the rim just after but there is no disputing that Orlando were much better with Aaron Gordon on the court. He finished just one assist off a triple-double — recording 18 points, 17 rebounds and nine assists. This was a big performance from the 25-year-old which was overshadowed by some bad decision-making late.
A game to forget for Dwayne Bacon. He finished with just two points to his name and looked completely lost offensively, missing shots from all over the court. Bacon has had some good performances this season but hurt the team with his poor offense against the New York Knicks, also making none of his three three-point attempts.
The Magic were -19 when he was on the floor and the wing offered very little. He is not someone that should be playing 27 minutes for this team but that is where injuries have left the Orlando Magic during this run. Fournier’s return will ease the pressure on Bacon.
The New York Knicks will no doubt be pleased with the victory but will not look back at this game with much fondness beyond the fight and grit they showed. The team shot terribly, going 35.6-percent from the field and a shocking 18.5-percent from 3-point range. Luckily, Tom Thibodeau’s team came up against an opponent that is even worse offensively.
There is no doubt though the Knicks are an improved team this season. The team was solid but not spectacular defensively despite the low points total for the Magic and while R.J. Barrett is still developing as a player, he put in another encouraging display with 22 points. The team also has a talented veteran in Julius Randle who has established himself as a reliable go-to scorer. There is much more to be positive about for the Knicks going forward under a great coach.
The Magic are currently on a six-game losing streak and have fallen to 6-8, ninth in the Eastern Conference. The Orlando Magic continue their road trip Wednesday against the Minnesota Timberwolves.