The Orlando Magic are still figuring out their way to play. That much is clear.
A young team is going to make mistakes, something they acknowledge, but they still have to abide by their principles. How close they abide by those principles will often determine just what the team’s outcome can be.
In several respects, the Magic have shown just how good they can be when they follow this, as they did in the first half. The ball got into the paint and kicked out to the perimeter. The defense flowed into the offense and they moved and cut to create open spots.
In many respects too, the Magic have shown just how much they can struggle when they do not meet these principles. When they give up easy baskets in transition or offensive rebounds or settle for quick shots and over-dribble.
The team knows what happens when the ball gets sticky and does not move. Strong defensive teams — or strong-minded defensive teams, at least — can pounce and take advantage.
And things can change quickly in those instances too, leaving this young team staggered and flailing desperately for answers.
The Orlando Magic gave up a devastating run as their offense became stagnant and stuck in the third quarter of a loss to the Boston Celtics.
Wednesday’s first half was a sublime showing of ball movement and shot-making that helped the Magic take their first first-quarter and halftime leads of the season. Orlando may have only been up two at the half, but the team was in control of the tempo of the game throughout the first 24 minutes.
This was the team everyone wanted to see.
The third quarter was anything but. The Boston Celtics upped their intensity and stifled the Orlando Magic. They won the quarter 31-10, opening the quarter on a 16-0 run to flip the game completely.
The ball indeed got sticky and the Magic did not play the way they know they need to. By the time they settled down, the shots would not fall to give them the confidence to get their feet under them. The Celtics, going through their own turmoil, had their own struggles but did enough to win 92-79 at the Amway Center.
That 31-10 third quarter and the adjustments they made were more than enough to stagger the Magic and send them back to the drawing board.
“They came out with a level of intensity and force and we had to get a little mor emovement, more cuts, backdoor cuts, motion and moving around more than just playing around the perimeter,” coach Jamahl Mosley said after Wednesday’s game. “But they turned up the intensity so credit to them for turning up their intensity, the aggression and the switching.”
Very early on in the third quarter, it was clear something was up the Magic were struggling to adjust to.
That switching defense indeed stiffened up. Orlando suddenly found itself unable to break down players off the dribble or get those critical paint touches to collapse the defense. Instead the ball just worked around the perimeter looking for a hole until the shot clock expried.
By any definition of pace the Magic were slow. They did not move around the perimeter, forcing the defense to react. They got the ball side to side but the defense was always set to meet them.
The Magic did not score a field goal until a Cole Anthony three-pointer with nearly 5:30 to play in the quarter. More than half the quarter had eclipsed. The team avoided the infamy of the lowest-scoring quarter in team history thanks to a pair of Terrence Ross free throws in the waning seconds of the period.
“I think that happens in a lot of cases where the ball will become sticky,” Mosley said after Wednesday’s loss. “We talked about it prior to the game. As teams switch us, there has to be a second action. We talkeda bout it in here and in the locker room. They’ve experienced it and they will continue to get better at doing it.”
“Sticky” was a word both Jamahl Mosley and R.J. Hampton used to describe the offense. It was something the team has feared and tried to guard against since they struggled at the start of the season.
This team works best when the ball zips inside and out and around the perimeter. It does not work when players have to isolate or over-dribble. It is easy to spot when this team is going to have a difficult possession.
And that only deepend the hole as they searched for answers.
“We definitely got very frustrated when none of our answers were really working, including myself,” Wendell Carter said after Wednesday’s game. “We started taking the first shot instead of getting to the second side of the court. That’s immaturity. I take a lot of responsibility in that. It’s from the top of the team all the way down. We can’t be a selfish team. I have to do a better job leading by example. We’ve got to do a bette rjob holding each other acountable.”
The Magic finished the game shooting just 32.1-percent from the floor and 9 for 43 from beyond the arc. They made just 8 for 37 shots in the second half (21.6-percent) and 3 for 22 from deep. In the third quarter, the Magic made only two shots in 17 attempts. They made only one of their 12 3-pointers.
Orlando had only four shot attempts in the paint toal in the third quarter. This after getting 22 in the first half.
It all stood in stark contrast to the good things the team did offensively in the first half and the great things the team did defensively throughout the game.
Where the ball moved in the first half, it stuck in the second half. The team’s ball movement and inside-out play stopped and the team was unable to reel themselves back in.
“It’s not just one person or a younger guy or an older guy, we were talking about it on the bench let’s not try to win the game in one possession,” R.J. Hampton said of the team’s discussions in the midst of that third quarter run. “Let’s move the ball and share the ball and trust each other. I think There was a stretch in that third quarter where we were doing that and we were just not hitting shots. Soemtimes the ball is going to fall that way.”
But at the end of the day, Orlando got caught and trapped too much. They did not meet the principles or play the way they need to be successful.
Too often, they settled for 3-pointers and too often they struggled to attack the paint or get quality shots they could finish in and around the rim.
There have been a lot of encouraging signs offensively. The team is shooting the ball a lot better and the team’s ball movement is significantly improved.
It is easy to see how far south things can go when they slip. The Magic still do not have the great attacker off the dribble. And that deficiency is most evident against teams that can switch and defend the way the Celtics did.
It is enough to flip a game on its head.