Orlando Magic still have details to learn to go for the kill late in games

Paolo Banchero crashed the basket for the game-winning drive. But it was the detail of Wendell Carter following him up that won the game. Mandatory Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports
Paolo Banchero crashed the basket for the game-winning drive. But it was the detail of Wendell Carter following him up that won the game. Mandatory Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports /

64. 108. 38. Final. 106

The Orlando Magic had lost their lead. All the control and composure they seemed to be showing got lost in a barrage of tough 3-point shots and missteps down the stretch. The Magic just could not get that last field goal to put them over the top for good and let them breathe easy.

They could not put the Detroit Pistons away in a rough and tumble, sometimes sloppy game. And the Pistons kept coming at them, finally tying the game at 106 with about four seconds to play. The Magic had to find a way to squeeze out one more play.

Any young team might be rattled. But this is what the Magic are trying to persist through. This is where they need to show the most growth.

The Magic broke Paolo Banchero free across the perimeter and set him up with a drive to the basket. He had the lane and collapsed the defense around him. But he missed.

Wendell Carter though remembered something assistant coach Jesse Mermuys told him in the timeout. He was asked to follow the shot and the drive. A critical detail that is sometimes easy to forget but can indeed be the difference between winning and losing.

In this case it was.

So when the ball fell off the rim, Carter was already there to grab it. Dunking it back home. And after a brief replay interlude to confirm the ball was indeed off the rim (it was orgianally called a basket interference violation), the Magic could celebrate a win.

The Magic still have a lot to learn about closing games and winning at the highest levels. There will be bigger challenges than the Detroit Pistons to come — and certainly there will need to be more encouraging efforts than the 108-106 final the Magic got at Amway Center on Thursday.

The Orlando Magic clearly still have a lot to learn about closing games. But the team found the right details at the right moment to get the biggest gain of all: A critical win.

But Orlando found a way to win. And at the end of the day, that is all the standings will care about when the Magic measure themselves in the postseason chase.

"“If we see ourselves being a playoff team, that’s kind of what it’s about,” Carter said after Thursday’s win. “Some nights, the ball isn’t going to go in. But we have to control what we can control which is playing hard, limiting them to one shot and getting great shots on the offensive end. i think we did that for the most part. You have to found a way. And we found a way at the end ot get the victory.”"

There are still lessons to learn to close out games. But in this case, things turned in their favor. In this case, the Magic found a way to win.

The Magic spent the past three days looking back at some of their late-game plays and some of the missteps they made. They watched tape from previous playoff games to better understand how games change on individual plays.

Plays like that tip-in from Carter. There are a lot of games that end up changing on tip-ins and fighting for offensive rebounds. Carter had that settled with a lot of big boards on his way to 14 rebounds, including six offensive rebounds.

Orlando did a lot of things it needed to do to win the game. The team did a lot of things that will lead to victories.

But there were plenty of plays the Magic made that tipped the other way. Such as Banchero losing a rebound out of bounds off a missed free throw with the Magic up three with 50.9 seconds left following a pair of free throw misses from Jaden Ivey.

The Pistons did not score on the ensuing possession. But Orlando looked shaky the rest of the way. Paolo Banchero could not get a jumper off for a 24-second violation on the Magic’s ensuing possession after Markelle Fultz sent him a bad pass on the perimeter.

Jaden Ivey followed that up with a pull-up 3-pointer with four seconds left, burying it over a hard close out from Wendell Carter.

Orlando never went for the kill. The team could not deliver that fatal blow and the door always remained open for a player like Ivey to make tough shots. Even with the Magic playing good defense and gobbling up rebounds.

There is still a lot to clean up for this Magic team.

"“For us it is just about learning from your mistakes,” Fultz said after Thursday’s game.  We had moments earlier in the season right before All-Star where I felt like we made our own mistakes that cost us the game. I feel like we are learning from those mistakes and undestanding what it takes to give ourselves a chance to win. All we can do is control what we can control and tonight we were fortunate enough for Wendell to get the putback.”"

The Magic have a pretty long history now of struggling late in games.

Including Thursday’s game, the Magic are now 13-19 in clutch situations, when the game is within five points in the final minutes. They have had some pretty notable misfires — misfires the team was aware of heading into the All-Star Break and reviewed as they came out of it.

Related Story. Orlando Magic have to lean on Paolo Banchero, Franz Wagner. light

This is still a team that has to find a way to execute down the stretch and get those critical baskets that can keep a team from making the kind of crazed comeback the Pistons made.

Orlando entered Thursday’s game with just a 102.4 offensive rating in clutch situations. Worse still, the Magic give up 121.7 points per 100 possessions in these tight areas.

It is no wonder teams are able to make comebacks against them when the game gets tight.

That is what happened in this one.

Orlando made its free throws down the stretch and got rebounds off misses. The team needed just one stop. Until that one shot when Ivey hit a tough one over good defense. Those are the kinds of things that can happen late in games.

And the Magic will have to grow from these lessons. At least it happened in a win. The Magic still did enough to come away at the end.

"“There is always lessons to learn,” coach Jamahl Mosley said after Thursday’s game. “This is one of those great ones in a win, you come away and you feel very good. but there are a lot of things down the stretch that we can definitely improve on. But again, we come away with the win because of how resilient our guys were. And so I’m just proud of the effort and energy they put forward tonight.”"

Maybe that is the lesson of all this. It does not have to be perfect. At the end of the day, what matters is the team gets that one extra play needed to get over the hump and get the win. A one-point win is as valuable as a 15-point win in the standings. And that may be the only stat that matters.

The Magic have plenty still to learn to close games. They became subject to a rising star’s burst of scoring and their uneasiness to put their foot down and finish a game. That is part of the randomness of late-game situations  and why it is more important for the team to hold onto a 14-point lead in the third quarter instead of letting an opponent back into the game.

Another lesson to learn.

Next. Orlando Magic have to beat the teams they should. dark

The team is still figuring out how to put these games away. Maybe there is no comfortable. There is just enough. And in this sense, the Magic found the detail that gave them just enough.

A win is all that matters.